Real change has never been easy. . . . The status quo in Washington will fight. They will fight harder than ever to divide us and distract us with ads and attacks from now until November.
— Barack Obama, Pennsylvania primary-night speech
With that, Obama identified the new public enemy: the “distractions” foisted upon a pliable electorate by the malevolent forces of the status quo, i.e., those who might wish to see someone else become president next January. “It’s easy to get caught up in the distractions and the silliness and the tit-for-tat that consumes our politics” and “trivializes the profound issues” that face our country, he warned sternly. These must be resisted.
Why? Because Obama understands that the real threat to his candidacy is less Hillary Clinton and John McCain than his own character and cultural attitudes. He came out of nowhere with his autobiography already written, then saw it embellished daily by the hagiographic coverage and kid-gloves questioning of a supine press. (Which is why those Saturday Night Live parodies were so devastatingly effective.)
Then came the three amigos: Tony Rezko, the indicted fixer; Jeremiah Wright, the racist reverend; William Ayers, the unrepentant terrorist. And then Obama’s own anthropological observation that “bitter” working-class whites cling to guns and religion because they misapprehend their real class interests.
In the now-famous Pennsylvania debate, Obama had extreme difficulty answering questions about these associations and attitudes. The difficulty is understandable. Some of the contradictions are inexplicable. How does one explain campaigning throughout 2007 on a platform of transcending racial divisions, while in that same year contributing $26,000 to a church whose pastor incites race hatred?
What is Obama to do? Dismiss all such questions about his associations and attitudes as “distractions.” And then count on his acolytes in the media to wage jihad against those who have the temerity to raise these questions. As if the character and beliefs of a man who would be president are less important than the “issues.” As if some political indecency was committed when Obama was prevented from going through his 21st — and likely last — primary debate without being asked about Wright or Ayers or the tribal habits of gun-toting, God-loving Pennsylvanians.
Take Ayers. Obama makes it sound as if the relationship consists of having run into each other at the DMV. In fact, Obama’s political career was launched in a 1995 meeting at Ayers’ home. Obama’s own campaign says that they maintain “friendly” relations.
Obama’s defense is that he was eight years old when Ayers and his Weather Underground comrades were planting bombs at the Pentagon, the U.S. Capitol, and other buildings. True. But Obama was 40 when Ayers said publicly that he doesn’t regret setting bombs. Indeed, he said, “I feel we didn’t do enough.”
Would you maintain friendly relations with an unrepentant terrorist? Would you even shake his hand? To ask why Obama does is perfectly legitimate and perfectly relevant to understanding what manner of man he is.
Obamaphiles are even more exercised about the debate question regarding the flag pin. Now, I have never worn one. Whether anyone does is a matter of total indifference to me. But apparently not to Obama. He’s taken three affirmative steps in regard to flag pins. After 9/11, he began wearing one. At a later point, he stopped wearing it. Then last year he explained why: Because it “became a substitute for, I think, true patriotism, which is speaking out on issues that are of importance to our national security.”
Apart from the self-congratulatory fatuousness of that statement — as if in this freest of all countries, political self-expression is somehow scarce or dangerous or a sign of patriotic courage — to speak of pin-wearing as a sign of inauthentic patriotism is to make an issue of it yourself. For Obamaphiles to now protest the very asking of the question requires a fine mix of cynicism and self-righteousness.
But Obama needs to cast out such questions as illegitimate distractions because they are seriously damaging his candidacy. As people begin to learn about this just-arrived pretender, the magic dissipates. He spent six weeks in Pennsylvania. Outspent Hillary more than two to one. Ran close to 10,000 television ads — spending more than anyone in any race in the history of the state — and lost by 10 points.
And not because he insufficiently demagogued NAFTA or the other “issues.” It was because of those “distractions” — i.e., the things that most reveal character and core beliefs.
© 2008, The Washington Post Writers Group