Friday, June 13, 2008

Obama Not Going to Be "Swiftboated"

Remember the 2004 Presidential election? Remember the ads from the swift boat veterans that attacked John Kerry? Remember how Kerry aggressively defended himself from those attacks? Oh, wait. That's right. He didn't aggressively defend himself. Well, it looks like Barack Obama learned a lesson from John Kerry and the swift boat ads. Sen. Obama has set up Fight the Smears, a website dedicated to addressing the smears and unfounded attacks leveled against the candidate.

For several weeks (months?) various rumors have been circulating on the Internet (and, in some cases, on Republican talk radio). Unfortunately, these rumors have often been viewed by many as "truth"; it seems as if to many people, if you hear a rumor often enough it must be true (or, perhaps, if Rush Limbaugh says it, then it must be true). So Fight the Smears has been started, apparently as a first line of defense against some of these rumors. Let's take a quick look at just a few:

1. Michelle Obama's "Whitey" rant.

When I first heard that Michelle Obama had supposedly given a speech in which she ranted about "whitey" and that the speech had been videotaped, I was worried about what this might do to Obama's candidacy. Supposedly, Republican operatives were in possession of the tape, but weren't going to release it until closer to the election. However, I began to wonder how this tape could be kept under wraps (especially in the midst of a sometimes bitter primary fight) and, if it did exist, how Obama and Democratic party leaders could ignore it and its potential for harm to the campaign. Well, it appears that the reason that the tape has remained "hidden" is simple: It doesn't exist. Michelle Obama never delivered the speech in question and never made the statements that the rumor attributes to her.

2. Barack Obama's birth certificate

Just a few days ago I read an article bashing Sen. Obama for refusing to make his birth certificate public. The article implies that the reason that Sen. Obama won't make his birth certificate public is that ... get ready ... Sen. Obama might night really be a natural-born American citizen (even though his mother was American), thus rendering him Constitutionally ineligible to be President. The article points out some of the sordid details of Obama's mother's marital history (are we really going to hold against a Presidential candidate things that his parents did before he was born or when he was a child?). Fight the Smears has a copy of Obama's Hawaii birth certificate. Hopefully, that issue can be put to bed.

Fight the Smears includes information on a few of the other long-standing, oft-repeated rumors about Sen. Obama. However, I will admit that I was underwhelmed with the amount of information shown to counter some of the smear tactics. Hopefully, in the future, much more content will be added to the site to help defend against smear tactics and to give Obama supporters their own ammunition to fight back against these smears. If I hear new damaging information about the candidate during the election season, I intend to use Fight the Smears as a kind of fact-check starting point (don't get me wrong; I won't rely upon everything I read on Fight the Smears any more than I would rely upon anything else; but it will be a good starting point to see if a rumor or smear has any basis).

Perhaps, if both candidates have similar anti-smear websites, we can all spend less time getting worked up about ridiculous non-issues and let the candidates spend more time discussing the real issues facing America. Of course, if 2004 is to be any kind of guide, Republicans may not want us to discuss those issues; in that case Fight the Smears may truly become a valuable resource. It will be interesting to see how Presidential elections will be conducted in the YouTube era.

One final point on all of this. One of the things that has really troubled me in recent years has been the tendency of politicians (and those interested in politics and various issues) to demonize their opponents and to view those with different viewpoints as "enemies" rather than opponents. From my perspective, this kind of destructive politics is the first step down the slippery slope to political violence that is so prevalent throughout much of the rest of the world. Barack Obama's ideas may sound, to some, as just high-minded ideals without substance, but his belief in a better America resonated with me and with others. Thus, I was particularly interested in the following quote from Sen. Obama at the top of the Fight the Smears website:
What you won't hear from this campaign or this party is the kind of politics
that uses religion as a wedge, and patriotism as a bludgeon -- that sees our
opponents not as competitors to challenge, but enemies to demonize. Because we
may call ourselves Democrats and Republicans, but we are Americans first. We are
always Americans first.

Perhaps more than any other reason, it is the sentiment expressed by that quote that helps to explain why I support Barack Obama for President.

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