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March 5, 2007

If at First You Can’t Smear . . .


Republicans have decided that, robbed of concrete reasons to attack presidential candidate Barack Obama, they will go after the senator’s religion. They just can’t seem to decide which religion that is. Because if at first you don’t succeed . . .


You may remember that the earlier smear, invented by the Moonie-affiliated Insight magazine in December and spread by blogger Debbie Schlussel, was that Obama, when growing up as a pre-teen in Indonesia, had attended an Islamic Madrassah, which may have had ties to known terrorists.


Due in large part to a strong and forceful response by Obama himself (and some fine work from CNN as well), the story was shown to be demonstrably false. Then, those behind the smear went to Plan B – changing the subject to the Hillary Clinton campaign having “planted” the story - even though there’s no evidence of that ever having happened, either.


Obama, for his entire adult life, has been a committed Christian and belonged to a church in Chicago, so whichever religious school he had or hadn’t attended prior to turning ten is probably neither hear nor there. But regardless, having thrown in the towel on the “Muslim” claim, conservatives are now going after Obama for his Christianity.


In a February 21 column on the looney tunes website World Net Daily, writer Erik Rush found some quotes on the web site of the 8,000-member church Obama attends in Chicago, the Trinity United Church of Christ. In the column and a February 28 interview on Fox News’ “Hannity & Colmes,” Rush claimed that this church embraces black supremacy and separatism, and Sean Hannity went so far as to compare it to a cult.


Why is this? Because the church’s website says that it supports "commitment to God, commitment to the black community, commitment to the black family and adherence to the black work ethic." Clearly our nation must be defended from such evil, subversive, far-left-wing ideas.


Isn’t commitment to Christianity, family and work exactly what conservatives have been recommending for black America for decades? Did Rush not notice that the words “separatism” and “supremacy” appear nowhere on the site? And furthermore, isn’t racial separatism and divisiveness pretty much the exact opposite of everything Barack Obama has ever said, done, written or stood for in his entire career?


The African-American church is one with an historic, beautiful tradition in this country. It played, of course, an instrumental role in the Civil Rights movement, and has been a major organizing institution of black American communities for the entirety of American history. To slam a church with values in tune with that tradition as “divisive” and “separatist” is an insult not only to the members of that church and that denomination, but the institution of the black church in general.


For all of the Bush years, it’s been a conservative meme that Democrats are 100 percent secular, disrespect people of faith, are against the religious right because they hate Christians, use the culture wars to promote divisiveness, are “godless,” are the “party of death” and want religion to have no role in public life or American culture whatsoever.


So then comes a Democratic candidate who is a man of genuine faith, one of Christian faith, and is open about the fact that much of his political worldview is informed by his religious beliefs. And in doing this, he proposes a politics that is based principally on bringing people together. So how do the Republicans react? First, they claim he’s a stealth Muslim. Then, they call his Christianity inauthentic, if not outright dangerous.


Just as Republicans ran against John Kerry in 2004 by pretending he was Michael Moore, the strategy of the Hannity right for ’08 is apparently to pretend Obama is Louis Farrakhan.


Thankfully, this meme has gotten very little traction since the column, with even the most conservative blogs largely ignoring it. It may be because Rush, the columnist, was thoroughly out-argued on Fox by Alan Colmes, a man notorious for not thoroughly out-arguing anybody. Or maybe the GOP, the party that (among other things) largely rejects the existence of global warming and evolution has finally, at last, found a position that’s actually too indefensible to hold.


I didn’t think the “Obama is a Muslim” attack would be topped anytime soon for pure vileness in American political discourse. But it only took about two months. And with 19 months to go until Election Day ‘08, I’m sure the worst is yet to come. Maybe next time they’ll call him Jewish.


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