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October 13th, 2008


by Ed Gold

No candidate for president in my lifetime has ever been attacked so viciously and from such a wide range of sources as Barack Obama, who somehow has confounded the screamers by maintaining a composure that has further angered his enemies.

There are obvious reasons for this near-hysteria coming from the right: Barack Obama is not a familiar American name, and the man, after all, is black, the first of his color to be seriously considered for the presidency.

But other factors intrude. His mother seemed to favor African and Asian men. His early schooling was in a Muslim country.

He has contradicted a host of stereotypes. He overcame poor economic conditions to become a star in the Ivy League, which perplexed and aggravated many of his opponents. Then he skipped the big bucks in prestigious law firms for the grubby, painful work of urban community organizer. He served in the Illinois state senate, then won a surprisingly easy victory for the U.S. Senate where he now sits as its only black member.

The rightists turned the word “elite” into a pejorative because of his success at Harvard, where he became the first black editor of the prestigious Harvard Law Review. Opponents have added to the attack, suggesting that he took money from a Muslim businessman and former Black Panther, Khahd al-Mansour, to help pay his way through Harvard.

His successful life story was a particularly heavy blow to the Neanderthal wing of an already right-wing Republican Party. Since winning his party’s nomination, the attacks on him have been startling in their hatefulness, bigotry, invective and xenophobia.

Early on, he was branded a Muslim, and that false label is still believed by more than ten percent of the voting public. Some of the haters have gone a step further, claiming his father was more Arab than black, giving support to the nonsense that Obama was Muslim.

This theme has been supplemented in many ways, adding to the charge that he was not a loyal American. He was accused of taking the Senate oath of office on the Koran; he was charged with not saluting the American flag and refusing to wear a flag pin, and some even suggested he wanted a new National Anthem!

While being attacked as a Muslim, he got into trouble being a Christian. Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s prophetic-style preaching in Chicago, often tinged with sharp criticism of the U.S., was embarrassing to the Obamas, who were parishioners in his church. Obama finally had to distance himself from his longtime minister. But his opponents weren’t finished. They said he had been a Muslim until his wife, Michelle, persuaded him that being a Christian would help his political career.

Fringe groups at the extreme right began stepping up attacks on him as he gained in the polls.

The NRA told hunters he would take all their guns away, although he has consistently supported Second Amendment rights.

The Republican Jewish Coalition said Obama was pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel and hostile to America, going after white collar voters in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida.

The League of American Patriots in Michigan referred to Obama as “Osama,” and called him a friend of Kwame Kilpatrick, the disgraced mayor of Detroit, also black.

Race and geography played a role in these attacks that had aspects of a cultural war.

A Republican Congressman in Georgia told the press the Obamas were “uppity” and “disrespectful.” The McCain campaign ran an ad suggesting Obama had been “disrespectful” to its vice-presidential candidate and that Obama should apologize. A Congresswoman from Kentucky made clear she did not want “that boy’s” finger on the nuclear button.

As the campaign progressed, the extreme right became more hostile to coastal America and to the city of Chicago, Obama’s hometown.

McCain ads began to talk about the “Chicago Way” with the strong suggestion that this was a corrupt, evil city run by bad people.

Obama was blasted for his association with Tony Rezko, who recently was convicted of corruption. He had helped Obama in a real estate purchase that had nothing to do with the corruption charge, but guilt by association—no matter how limited—has become standard practice in the GOP assault. The Republicans also hit hard at William Daley, who backed Obama, as head of the Chicago “political machine.” Still on Chicago, the GOP described Obama with disdain as “a guy from the streets.”

Another extraordinary charge against Obama was his alleged support of a state bill that would teach “comprehensive sex” to kindergarten kids, a charge condemned by many columnists and editorial boards.

Also, he was blamed for the Wall Street debacle, linked with Franklin Raines of Fannie Mae, who was wrongly labeled an Obama advisor. Raines is black too.

The GOP has worked hard to suggest that Obama is not a real patriot. Cindy McCain was brought into the act, charging that Obama voted in the Senate against providing her son, then serving in Iraq, with necessary support. Obama’s action sent chills down her spine, she told an angry audience.

Obama had voted against Iraq funding that did not include a timeline for troop withdrawal. McCain voted against funding when a timeline was included.

Xenophobia was conspicuous in the GOP reaction to Obama’s trip to Europe and Asia, which almost everyone else praised. Republicans wrongly accused him of not addressing U.S. troops in Afghanistan and of purposely failing to visit injured soldiers in Germany. Then he was called presumptuous for addressing 200,000 Berliners on American interest in world peace and cooperation.

But the charge that caused the most stir, delivered by Ms. Barracuda, was that he had a close relationship with Williiam Ayers, who during the Vietnam War had been leader of the violence-prone Weather Underground. Later Ayers would become a Chicago University professor and an expert on education issues, and in 1997 Chicago’s Man of the Year. He apparently held a fund-raiser for Obama, then running for the state senate, and they had crossed paths at educational conferences. At the time Ayres was playing with bombs, Obama was only eight years old.

But that didn’t stop the smiling shotgun mom from accusing Obama of “palling around with terrorists,” raw meat for the party base.

Fox’s Sean Hannity added to the combustion in an interview with a scary guy named Andy Martin, who suggested Obama and Ayers were organizing “a radical overthrow of the government.”

As Obama showed increasing strength in the polls, the rowdy element at Palin rallies began to get out of hand. In Florida, a sheriff mentioned Obama’s middle name, Hussein, which aroused the Neanderthals. People began shouting that Obama was a “terrorist” or a “traitor.” Others yelled “off with his head,” “kill him,” and “bomb Obama.”

When McCain was told by a woman that Obama was an Arab, he drew the line and called for civility—and was booed by his own people.

Should Obama prevail in November, the Secret Service will carry a heavy burden in protecting our first black president from serious harm.

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