The Phony Campaign

2008-04-06 Update

A mere gnat's whisker of 16,000 hits separate our candidates:

Query StringHit CountChange Since
"Hillary Clinton" phony180,000-20,000
"Barack Obama" phony169,000-26,000
"John McCain" phony164,000-19,000

Let's take a look at recent patriotism-questioning:

  • The Blogometer periodically summarizes political blogs. On Friday, it saw fit to characterize a set of posts this way:
    Conservative bloggers continue to question Obama's patriotism:
    It's long been an article of faith that "questioning patriotism" is Beyond The Pale, and something you Just Can't Do. Is the charge fair? Judge for yourself. The links are to:

    My call: To be charitable, Blogometer is missing some serious nuance there.

  • This, on the other hand, is pretty unabashed patriotism-questioning:

    [CNN Quickvote]

    Whoa. What rabid right-wing blogger dared to put that up?

    Bzzzt. Not a blogger. A news site.

    Oh. Well, Fox News, right?

    Sorry, no.

    [To be fair, a right wing blogger did do his own poll in reaction to this.]

  • Like it or not, of the three remaining candidates, Obama draws far more than his share of the "patriotism" comments. Nobody even thinks about McCain's patriotism; it's obvious, and just taken for granted. Nobody thinks about Hillary's patriotism either; it's pretty much assumed that power-hunger is her prime motivator.

    Here's Jonah Goldberg who wonders why the Left (generally) and Obama (specifically) are so reluctant on appealing to patriotism in their otherwise stem-winding campaign rhetoric:

    To invoke patriotism seriously is to brand yourself either an old fogy or a right-wing bully. If Barack Obama spoke about patriotism with the sort of passion he expends on unity, many would take him for some sort of demagogue.
    That's a subtle point. [And for taking the trouble to make the point, Jonah got hit with a "Jonah Goldberg Latest Wingnut To Question Obama’s Patriotism" headline at Firedoglake.]

  • But Jonah's observations are being echoed outside the Wingnut Community. Joe Klein at Time observes:
    Patriotism is, sadly, a crucial challenge for Obama now. His aides believe that the Wright controversy was more about anti-Americanism than it was about race. Michelle Obama's unfortunate comment that the success of the campaign had made her proud of America "for the first time" in her adult life and the Senator's own decision to stow his American-flag lapel pin — plus his Islamic-sounding name — have fed a scurrilous undercurrent of doubt about whether he is "American" enough.

  • This drives doctrinaire lefties bananas. For example, at the Carpetbagger Report, Steve Benen looks at Klein's and Goldberg's comments and pronounces the topic "tiresome". And he links to a Media Matters report that (as near as I can tell) documents every single occasion of Obama's favorable mentions of "patriotism" and "patriots".

    Which of course, is fine. CNN asked Obama back in February how he would "fight the image of being unpatriotic."

    "The way I will respond to it is with the truth: that I owe everything I am to this country," he said.
    That's pretty good! But political rhetoric is primarily judged on how it sways people. As Klein and Goldberg show, Obama's rhetoric, uplifting as it is in other areas, just isn't particularly effective on this topic.

  • You might be forgiven for thinking that actual patriotism-questioning is relatively rare; much more common is outraged reaction to perceived patriotism-questioning. Fred Barnes has a pretty good summary of what he calls "patriotism paranoia":
    When criticized for being soft or wrong on national security, Democrats routinely respond that their patriotism is being questioned. In fact, they're rarely if ever accused of being unpatriotic. But to the paranoid, that's immaterial.
    Open question: how much is paranoia, and how much is phony outrage?

Last Modified 2014-12-01 11:04 AM EST