Genesis Of A Smear

Political smears are insidious things. They work most frequently in the shadows, out of public scrutiny. So it is a very, very rare thing to find one at its nascent stage.

Smears, at that point, are very much like subatomic particles. They cannot be observed and studied without changing them. In this particular case, I fear that discussing the situation will have the effect of stifling, perhaps even killing it outright.

That’s a risk I’m more than willing to take.

Of course, I’m talking about the most-likely-mythical video of Michelle Obama denouncing “Whitey.”

And yes, I am stopping short of an absolute denial that such a tape exists. I firmly believe that it was a myth, that no such thing ever happened, let alone somewhere where it might be videotaped, but stranger things have happened. I’m willing to say that I am 99.9% certain that it never happened — but I won’t go out on a limb and commit the logical fallacy of trying to prove a negative.

Now, I don’t follow national politics with the level of attention to do this properly, but I think I can lay out a bit of my own observations and ideas on what’s going on here.

The first person, apparently, to give the whole “whitey” issue any legs was Bob Beckel. Beckel, a lifetime Democratic activist, attributed the rumor to Larry Johnson, a former CIA analyst and Hillary Clinton supporter. Johnson said (or almost said) that he had the tape, and was ready to release it. However, when you parsed what he said very, very carefully, he never said he had the tape, never said he saw it, only that he had spoken with people who had seen it and trusted them implicitly.

Note that very, very carefully: the person at the heart of the rumor is (or, at least was) a Hillary Clinton supporter who was very critical of Barack Obama, and it was pushed on to the main stage by a guy who had worked for both Bobby Kennedy and Walter Mondale.

So, who’s getting the blame for the “smearing” of Michelle Obama? Why, us big, scary, mean, evil right-wing bloggers.

Personally, I never wrote about the tape here. I did comment elsewhere that I doubted it even existed, and had my own theory about the hype — Johnson wanted it to be true, convinced himself it did exist, and announced that it would be released in hopes of pressuring the holder of the tape to release it themselves and keep from getting “scooped” by Johnson. But when that never happened, Johnson was left looking like the delusional idiot (I’m being kind; I think it’s more likely “self-aggrandizing, manipulative, unscrupulous asshole” would fit better) he is.

As hoaxes go, it wasn’t too bad a one. It had, at its core, a certain plausibility — Michelle Obama is on record of saying some rather unpleasant things (I’m thinking of the “for the first time in my adult life, I’m proud of my country” remark), as well as a long association with a church that has become infamous for its leaders saying similar things. So it was not completely out of left field (so to speak).

But on the other hand, she is nowhere near a stupid woman. She is an Ivy League-educated lawyer, and that kind of remark — even if uttered to “fit in” with the general atmosphere of the Trinity United church crowd — is way, way out of line. It would be the equivalent of Pat Buchanan railing against “those fucking Kikes” — he’s way too intelligent to say something so crass, so unequivocally racist and bigoted, so blatantly hateful. Even though, in Buchanan’s case, I strongly suspect it has crossed his mind on numerous occasions.

But I digress. The issue here isn’t whether or not Michelle Obama ever said such a thing on tape, it’s who is getting blamed for pushing the rumor that she had. As noted above, the two key figures in the story — those who put such effort into getting the rumor out — are long-time Democratic activists, one of them a Hillary Clinton supporter.

But that’s getting swept under the rug in the rush (no pun intended) to turn the whole story on its ear and blame the right wingers.

Michelle Malkin has a magnificent posting up on it, showing Bob Beckel on Fox News on two separate occasions. First, he’s teasing the hell out of the existence of the tape. Then, weeks later, he’s slamming the right-wingers who — in some alternate reality — did what he did himself. He even manages to call them “crackers.”

Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs has two pieces up on this whole sordid mess. The first covers much the same ground as Michelle Malkin’s, while the second goes a bit further into the background of Beckel and Johnson — including Johnson’s sojourn as a diarist at The Daily Kos, that known hotbed of right-wing bloggers.

And if that isn’t enough, let me introduce another line of argument — the legal question, “cui bono?” “Who benefits?”

The rumors started flying just as the final nails were being driven into the casket for Hillary Clinton’s campaign. The story — if it had proven true — would have been a devastating blow to Barack Obama’s candidacy. He can jettison his preacher, his church, countless campaign staffers when they prove embarrassing, but this is his wife, his life partner. He’s even more stuck with her than the Clintons are with each other.

At that point, the biggest beneficiary of his downfall would be Hillary Clinton. Clinton, the chosen candidate of chief rumor-monger Larry Johnson. Clinton, the #2 choice of the party of Bob Beckel.

If the right wing had been behind the rumors, then letting them loose at that point was incredibly stupid. There was still a chance for Obama to step aside and Hillary to take the nomination, well in advance of the convention. This is the kind of thing you sit on, you keep silent over, you hide away until it’s much closer to the election. Then you hit Obama with it, and you not only take down his candidacy, but leave the Democrats very little time for damage control — not only will you take out whoever they choose to replace him, but you cause incalculable damage all the way down the ticket. “Whitey” could have, in theory, helped the Republicans not only keep the White House, but given them a fighting chance at Congress. This whole mess broke at the worst possible time for them, politically speaking.

Keep an eye on this matter. The myth that the whole “whitey” tape was cooked up and pushed by the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy will continue to be pushed forward more and more, and the true origins will be forcefully forgotten by the Keepers Of The Records. Unless enough people call them on it each and every single time they try to push it.

Because, to them, “truth” is only relevant when it serves A Greater Purpose. And if Bob Beckel and Larry Johnson have to get swept under the carpet (it’s a little difficult to recast them as rabid right-wingers, so they’re best forgotten) to serve The Greater Purpose, then so be it.

Obama's Delusion Continues
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