Earlier this week, the AP reporter Nedra Pickler published an odious story that questioned Barack Obama’s patriotism through insinuation. The entire focus of the story was to imply that Sen. Obama may not be sufficiently patriotic to be president because he doesn’t wear an American flag pin, and because he supposedly didn’t put his hand over his heart during a recent singing of the National Anthem. (No, really.)
The article used what are now standard tricks in the playbook of a hollow and degraded media: using the “some say” technique to pass on right-wing innuendo as if it were serious news, making sure to give “equal time” to rumors and facts, and focusing obsessively on utterly irrelevant trivialities to the exclusion of legitimate and important issues. (Haircuts, anyone?) Until recently, Obama hadn’t been the presumptive nominee, and the media-abetted right-wing attacks had focused mainly on Hillary Clinton. But as he increasingly takes on frontrunner status, it was inevitable that some of this slime would start coming his way.
I’ve written before about why I didn’t intend to vote for Hillary Clinton in the primary (and I didn’t), but I was equivocal about Obama. His voting record is all-around solid progressive; what I was more concerned about was the way he’d handle himself in the general election. Any Democratic presidential candidate is sure to face a barrage of vicious personal attacks. Unlike Clinton – whose voting record I’ve expressed my discontent with, but whose willingness to defend herself was not an issue – Obama seemed more of an unknown quantity to me. Too many Democrats have lost elections by being timid in the face of Republican attacks, running away from their own positions or failing to defend themselves when criticized – or, worse, trying to deflect criticism by aping Republican positions. (A tip to Democratic politicians: When given a choice between real Republican and Republican-lite, conservatives vote for the real thing, and liberals don’t vote.) This incident was one of the first tests of how Obama would handle himself under pressure.
Today Obama responded, and I was extremely pleased to see that he seems to understand very well the game being played here:
“A party that presided over a war in which our troops did not get the body armor they needed, or were sending troops over who were untrained because of poor planning, or are not fulfilling the veterans’ benefits that these troops need when they come home, or are undermining our Constitution with warrantless wiretaps that are unnecessary?
“That is a debate I am very happy to have. We’ll see what the American people think is the true definition of patriotism.”
Yes, yes, yes! This is the kind of response I’ve been waiting for so long to hear from a progressive politician – one that doesn’t tacitly concede the principle behind the Republican attack, that doesn’t try to deflect it by acting more like them, but one that exposes their hypocrisy and takes the fight to them on their own turf. I’ve always firmly believed that Democrats could win elections in a landslide if they stopped running away from the mere whiff of criticism and started boldly and fearlessly standing up for what they’re supposed to believe in. There’s ample ground to take the fight to the enemy, as Obama’s response shows.
Given the outrageous injustices that have ensued when the Republicans are in power, the blatant and shameless way they sought and still seek to frighten the public and violate the Constitution for their own political benefit, they’ve given us more than enough rope to hang them with. They are defenseless on weak ground, which is why they attack constantly. But we need a candidate who will point this out, who will make the case with fervor and passion, and who will not be cowed by pathetic attacks from the right-wing rumor mill. After today, I’m far more hopeful that Obama could be that candidate.