The week before the week before this week’s scheduled gathering of the delegates and their media camp followers in Denver, the nominee-presumptive of the Democratic Party did something that is strongly recommended, and ought to be mandatory, for anyone who has just logged a year and a half’s worth of eighteen-hour days travelling in airplanes, making speeches, shaking hands with tens of thousands of strangers, answering numbingly repetitive questions, fending off attacks on everything from his position on insurance mandates to his alleged similarity to Paris Hilton, and trying to remember what it feels like to get a good night’s sleep: Barack Obama went on vacation.
He did this in Hawaii, one of the fifty United States of America. Not only is Hawaii amply supplied with beaches, sunshine, hotels, and other features useful to vacationers (tourism is the state’s largest industry); it is also where Obama was born and went to high school, and it is the only place he can visit his eighty-five-year-old grandmother, who still occupies the apartment they shared when she was helping rear him.
To summarize, Obama took a break. But he wasn’t given one. “Going off this week to vacation in Hawaii does not make any sense whatsoever,” Cokie Roberts, one of the resident sourpusses on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” complained. “I know his grandmother lives in Hawaii, and I know Hawaii is a state, but it has the look of him going off to some sort of foreign, exotic place. He should be in Myrtle Beach, you know, if he’s going to take a vacation at this time”—birthplace and grandma be damned.
On the other hand, the proposition that Obama vacationed in Hawaii is at least factually true. The same cannot be said for the contents of “The Obama Nation,” by Jerome R. Corsi, Ph.D., which, thanks to bulk purchases, has been the No. 1 New York Times best-seller for three weeks. The tired pun of the book’s title is a rare instance of hard-right truth in labeling. On a foundation of small, medium-sized, and extra-large falsehoods, “The Obama Nation” erects a superstructure of innuendo, guilt by (often nonexistent) association, baseless speculation, and sinister-sounding but irrelevant digression. The result is an example of what used to be known, in the glory days of ideologically driven totalitarianism, as the Big Lie—in this case, a fabricated, alternate-universe Barack Obama, who, we are told or invited to infer, is a corrupt, enraged, anti-American, drug-dealing, anti-Israel, pseudo-Christian radical leftist, black militant, plagiarist, and liar, trained as a Muslim and mentored by a menagerie of Marxists, Communists, crypto-Communists, and terrorists.
The fabrications and distortions in “The Obama Nation” have been patiently enumerated and refuted by Media Matters and other watchdog Web sites; “Fight the Smears,” a section of Obama’s site, has a fairly complete compilation. The exercise is an absolutely necessary one, but the point-by-point approach can leave the impression of quibbling over details. The problem for Obama isn’t little lies. It’s the big one.
Corsi won his first dollop of fame four years ago, as the co-author of another best-selling tissue of lies, “Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry.” The moral depravity of that book was matched by its physical slovenliness. It looked as if it had been laid out on a teen-ager’s home computer, it was barely literate, and it was padded with large type, wide margins, and redundant appendixes. The sole raison d’être of its publisher, Regnery, is the promulgation of hard-right politics. “The Obama Nation,” on the other hand, has been published by Threshold Editions, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. It is a professional job, and it has evidently benefitted from professional help. In a typical passage, the harsh taste of poison is artificially sweetened by a dose of solemn, ersatz thoughtfulness:
“Our argument is that Obama’s experience with Islam predisposes him to Islam in a way that is reflective of his political associates, his political advisors, and his specific policies regarding the Middle East. This is a very different argument than to claim Obama is a Muslim, something no one can prove one way or the other, except for Obama himself.”
Corsi himself is a crackpot, a boor, and a bigot. He wrote a book last year accusing the Bush Administration, the Council on Foreign Relations, and assorted liberals of plotting to subsume the United States into a North American superstate with its own currency, the “amero”; he helped fuel a theory, popular with slivers of the far right and the far left, that the World Trade Center collapse on 9/11 was caused by explosives planted in the buildings; on a malarial right-wing Web site called FreeRepublic.com, he called Hillary Clinton “a lesbo,” Muslims “ragheads,” and John Kerry, Bill Clinton, Katie Couric, and John Lennon “communists” (“a dead communist,” in the Beatle’s case), and wrote that “boy buggering in both Islam and Catholicism is okay with the Pope”—meaning John Paul II, whom he derided as “senile”—“as long as it isn’t reported by the liberal press.” All of which is to say that Corsi is, or ought to be, a marginal figure.
But Mary Matalin, the editor-in-chief of Threshold Editions, is not a marginal Republican. She is a former chief of staff of the Republican National Committee, and she served in the current Administration as an Assistant to the President, the White House staff’s shiniest title. Nor is Simon & Schuster—which, seventeen years ago, gave a book contract to a young man who had been elected the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review—a marginal publisher. But its standards have evidently slipped now that, along with CBS, MTV, and Paramount, it is part of Sumner Redstone’s National Amusements, Inc.
The Corsi book does its real damage on the air, via the sprawling conservative slander industry. The book, its author, and its claims are in heavy rotation on Fox News and the talk-radio programs of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, Laura Ingraham, and their hundreds of imitators. There is no Democratic equivalent, and, because these broadcasters have no formal connection with the Republican Party or with John McCain, their unending campaign of character assassination against Obama affords the Party and its presumptive nominee the gift of deniability.
Even so, McCain has increasingly embraced their methods. At the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention last week, he accused Obama of placing the nation’s security below “the ambition to be President.” Before the same audience the following day, Obama said he had “never suggested, and never will, that Senator McCain picks his positions on national security based on politics or personal ambition,” adding, “I believe that he genuinely wants to serve America’s national interest. Now it’s time for him to acknowledge that I want to do the same.”
That should clear up any doubts about whether Obama is a Christian. But a soft answer does not always turn away wrath. At the Democratic Convention four years ago, John Kerry, heeding focus groups in which “negativity” was deplored, made the colossal mistake of discouraging discouraging words about George W. Bush. If the character of a campaign reflects the character of its candidate, then John McCain’s character is not above criticism. In Denver this week, Obama and the Democrats had better hold McCain and the Republicans accountable, not only for the moral, strategic, and material disasters of the past eight years but also for the viciousness of their method of clinging to power. If they do, perhaps Barack Obama will be able to take his next vacation at Camp David.