By Katharhynn Heidelberg
This column may read as though it has been hijacked by the comic strip Non Sequitur’s Obvious Man. Plus, there is inherit hypocrisy in criticizing others for failing to discuss substantive issues instead of, uh, discussing those issues yourself.
But it’s campaign season (again? still?), and I just can’t help it.
We begin with Lou Ann Zelenik and incumbent Diane Black’s fight during a congressional primary race in Tennessee. The level to which Zelenik stooped is sadly familiar, and shows that even members of the same party will turn on one another like rabid wolves when power is at stake. Still, Zelenik hit a new low with her inspired campaign tactic, which boiled down to telling Black: “You’re not bigoted and stupid enough.”
Both women had opposed the building of a mosque in Murfreesboro, Tenn., the opening of which had been delayed after opponents decided to hide their bias behind complaints about the permitting process. Black, who ultimately won this distasteful race, even seemed to espouse monitoring Islamic houses of worship to make sure they aren’t fostering a “jihadist viewpoint.” (Per Reuters, Black said communities have the “right” to ensure no such fostering takes place, but implicit in such statements is that communities automatically have a reason to be concerned. Because who worships in mosques? Muslims! Natch.) According to Zelenik, though, Black was not opposed enough, and were voters to select Black, why then Tennessee would be sliding down a greased chute to theocratic rule under Sharia law!
While the campaign tiff was truly stupid because the mosque in question isn’t even located in the then-contested district, also troubling is Zelenik’s backing. Per Reuters, donor Andrew Miller kicked in $105,000 to “Citizens 4 Ethics in Government,” which unleashed robo-calls to destroy Black’s chances. I guess “ethics in government” means “lie, distract, divide, play upon xenophobia,” even when discussing fellow Americans who happen to be Muslim. Stay classy, Tennessee!
As Tennessee goes, so goes the presidential race. Witness Mitt Romney, the predator capitalist- turned-American workingman’s savior, who demanded Obama’s campaign pack up the “negativity” and ship it back to Chicago.
Obama has been negative, and Joe Biden has unfortunately not been as tongue-tied as he should be. Tactics such as implying that Romney killed a man’s wife by causing her husband to lose his job and hence, his health insurance, are atrocious; Biden suffers from diarrhea of the mouth that is often exceptionally ill-timed.
But there’s no high ground for a Republican party that bows down to the sleazy genius of Karl Rove and Ann Coulter, which fawns over opportunistic thimble-wits such as Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck, and more and more, caters to its most extreme elements. Which party says nothing when others call the president a socialist? Which party hasn’t emphatically disavowed the plain nutty idea that its opponent is not a “real” American?
Perhaps it’s not the slime-coated tactics so much as their effectiveness. Human nature adores an echo chamber; we like to have our biases reinforced. How else could have the take-down of America’s No. 1 threat, Osama bin Laden, be transformed into a blot on President Obama’s record?
After a terror attack that occurred on his predecessor’s watch, after our blood and our treasury were diverted in pursuit of the wrong enemy, Barack Obama took a measured, careful approach to the military’s tracking of bin Laden. He carefully consulted with the top command, heard every proposal, and when the time came, gave the order, as the military’s commander-in-chief. The U.S. Navy SEALS then killed bin Laden in a high-risk, high-stakes mission.
Carrying to a whole new level the myth that Obama is wrongly taking credit for others’ work: The Special Operations OPSEC Education Fund, which in recent propaganda (funded by heaven knows who), posits that Obama deliberately leaked information “to the enemy” and is wrongly taking credit for the SEAL strike on bin Laden.
The group’s claims of nonpartisanship were quickly exposed as false: one representative is a former Bush spokesman; its legal advisor was once chief counsel for the Republican National Committee, who also has represented other Republican-linked groups, and OPSEC’s treasurer was once president of a Republican group “involved in redistricting issues,” reports Reuters. That group had itself received funding from a businessman, since deceased, who had also helped back the Swift Boat Veterans’ vicious and demonstrably false campaign against John Kerry.
We don’t know who all is funding OPSEC. Because it is registered as a “social welfare group,” it can keep its donors secret, according to Reuters.
The Obama administration told Reuters it aggressively prosecutes leaks. Of course leaks make it harder for special ops to do their job — so does, as a friend of mine noted, failing to properly arm and equip service men and women after putting them in harm’s way, as was the case in the Iraq War.
As to “claiming credit for bin Laden,” it’s not as if the president landed a fighter plane on the deck of an aircraft carrier, and grandstanded under a banner which declared a mission that would go on for years was “accomplished,” now is it? (That’s another thing: If Bush gets credit for taking out the blemish on the buttock of humanity that was Saddam Hussein — and even I give him a nod for that — how is it that Obama is not only denied credit for bin Laden, but crucified that it even comes up?)
Because it’s imperative to his opponents’ narrative that Obama be seen as weak and ineffective; like John Kerry before him, he just can’t win.
Not even when Admiral William McRaven, who was in charge of bin Laden’s removal, came right out and said: “At the end of the day, make no mistake about it, it was the president of the United States that shouldered the burden for this operation, that made the hard decisions, that was instrumental in the planning process, because I pitched every plan to him.” (Italics mine.)
In other words, while Obama was not part of the strike force, he deserves some of the credit. And had the mission failed, you can bet your backside critics would lay it at his feet, while howling that he hadn’t thought the mission through enough.
They say Obama is too afraid to run on his record, and yet, the OPSEC group isn’t really attacking that. Instead, its members are falsely painting him as a glory hog in hopes of stirring up emotions. They know the American people, after all: we prefer entertainment to information.
Information would include reminding people that Obama has not closed Gitmo; that we’ve still got boots on the ground in the deserts, that he signed into law the government’s right to detain U.S. citizens, that he, too, has engaged in warrantless wiretapping, and that while he inherited a mess, he and Congress have not turned around the recession.
Informing citizens would also include that fact that his auto bailout worked, that he signed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, that he has not made ideologically based misogyny part of his platform, that objective science doesn’t send him into a blind panic, that his health-care policy has many positives, not just negatives, and, uh, yeah, Obama did oversee planning and approve the mission that took out bin Laden.
But that’s no fun.
We are dialed in to easy information, braincandy entertainment. Given the choice, for instance, between watching C-Span and a rerun of “Bridezillas,” most would opt for the vanity-fest of unhinged wives-to-be.
America is by now so accustomed to political opponents painting each other as firebreathing, puppy-devouring monsters that it hardly bears mention. That’s too bad, because we deserve better.
But while we claim we don’t want negativity, we sure as hell don’t listen to objectivity. We won’t see better of our candidates until we start demanding it — by doing the hard work of vetting those who would lead us, and listening to the facts, even when they aren’t what we want to hear.
Katharhynn Heidelberg is a journalist in Montrose, Colo.