The Cyber-smear Backfires … but What About Legitimate Questions?

Following the appearance yesterday on the Drudge Report of a photograph of Barack Obama in traditional Somali dress (some lame brained attempt, it would appear, to smear him by associating him with things Muslim), Obama seems to have pulled slightly ahead of Hillary in Texas and her lead in Ohio appears to be narrowing.

Presenting cherry-picked facts and/or pictures out of context, and mingling facts and fictions to suggest false conclusions are among the hoariest tricks in the propagandist handbook, and can be quite effective given human nature (think of how Hitler and Goebbels “painted” the Jews of Europe). A downside of the internet age is it is easier than ever for people to conduct propagandistic campaigns of character assassination.

Regardless of who was behind the attempted cyber-smear, it is heartening to see that most ordinary Americans had the sense to see straight through it. If anything, it may have helped Obama, who comes across as a pasha supremely surveying the balmy landscape, while Hillary and Bill are starting to resemble a pair of mangy mutts impotently barking alongside his inexorable Caravan of Dreams.

In fairness to Hillary, Bill, and the country, there are plenty of legitimate reasons to be wary of an Obama presidency. For one, his rigidly liberal voting record in the U.S. Senate suggests he is no moderate or great compromiser. For another, his lack of experience as a manager is worrisome. Shouldn’t Hillary’s campaign be driving home the potential downside of electing an ultra-liberal who is inexperienced at conducting foreign policy, or running anything of scale?

Based on my reading of “Dreams from My Father,” Barack Obama’s memoir of his childhood and youth (and admittedly I’m only halfway through it), an irony strikes me about this leaked photo: in Obama’s memoir, his Indonesian Muslim stepfather, a man named Lolo, comes across as the one significant influence on him in his formative years to have tempered what appears his constitutional idealism, even naivete.

(Naivete, incidentally, is a quality Obama’s memoir suggests to me was prominent in the personalities of the other adults in his life who had a formative influence on his character–his mother, and his maternal grandparents.)

In a scene fairly early in the book, he describes how his stepfather taught him to fight. Afterward, the two share an interesting conversation that begins when young Barack asks his stepfather a question:

“Have you ever seen a man killed?” I asked him.

He glanced down, surprised by the question.

“Have you?” I asked again. “Yes,” he said.” Was it bloody?” “Yes.”

I thought for a moment. “Why was the man killed? The one you saw?”

“Because he was weak.”

“That’s all?” Lolo shrugged and rolled his pant leg back down. “That’s usually enough. Men take advantage of weakness in other men. They’re just like countries in that way. The strong man takes the weak man’s land. He makes the weak man work in his fields. If the weak man’s woman is pretty, the strong man will take her.” He paused to take another sip of water, then asked, “Which would you rather be?”

I didn’t answer, and Lolo squinted up at the sky. “Better to be strong,” he said finally, rising to his feet. “If you can’t be strong, make peace with someone who’s strong. But always better to be strong yourself. Always.”

If he is to be our next President, let us pray young Barack has figured out the correct answer to his Muslim stepfather’s question.

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