Sunday, June 22, 2008

Barack Obama vs. the Strange Smears From The Right

Is the whole "appeasement" argument over? I hope so, because that has to be one of the stupidest Obama smears out there. You remember, Bush went to the Knesset in Israel and said,
Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: "Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided." We have an obligation to call this what it is -- the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.
The White House and John McCain both later said that this comment was pointed directly at Obama. Admittedly, it's easy to discredit, but it's still annoying to have the same blatantly stupid talking points repeated everywhere.

First, the quote he mentions was attributed (entirely unverifiably) to William Edgar Borah. It seems odd that Bush would try to bash Democrats with a quote from a Republican, but let's leave that aside.

Let's concentrate on one simple point. Bush is implying that talking to any terrorist or "rogue state" is, by itself, a strategic disaster. Simply by talking to them, you are giving them everything they want. Because, apparently, when you sit down at the council table, you forget how to say "no."

Ignoring the black-and-white worldview which that attitude implies, let's consider. The Reagan administration sold weapons to the Iranians (under the table, admittedly) and held talks with the Soviet Union (despite the fact that he called them an "Evil Empire" which would end up on "the ash heap of history"). The Reagan and Thatcher governments worked together on an idea called "constructive engagement" with the apartheid government of South Africa, and during the early Eighties, they vetoed UN sanctions against the racist, murderous South African government.

Hell, if the definition of a "rogue state" is one that abuses and kills its own people, supports terrorism, and generally works against the best interests of the United States, let's look at Saudi Arabia. People are arrested and killed without anything resembling "due process," political and religious minorities are oppressed, slavery is rampant, and, lest we forget, 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were all from Saudi Arabia (as, come to think of it, was Osama bin Laden). But Cheney flies there practically once a month to kiss the sandals of the sheikhs.

So let's stop using loaded words like "appeasement," and talk about something a little simpler, like "diplomacy," OK?

The second strange Obama myth is that whole "campaign financing" thing. People are trying to claim that Obama is a "flip-flopper" (like that term has any meaning when you're on the same planet as John McCain, who has reversed himself on literally every substansive issue in this campaign), because Obama said that he'd accept campaign financing, and hasn't.

That doesn't hold up well either, because McCain has been unable to follow the campaign-financing laws that he, himself, set up. Remember them? They were called "McCain-Feingold," in their day. McCain was going broke early this year, so he accepted campaign financing. Then he secured a bank loan based on the federal money that McCain-Feingold promised, and then he proceeded to break every spending cap required by McCain-Feingold. And then he unilaterally opted out of campaign financing, despite the fact that the FEC is required to agree to it after he proposes backing out, and they haven't. So McCain is, in essence, breaking the law that he set up.

But he's a straight-talker, so that's OK, right?

Anyway, one of the most unkillable of the anti-Obama myths is probably "Barack HUSSEIN Obama is a secret Muslim!" And despite the fact that it's easily countered in the minds of any intelligent, reasonable person, the fact remains that the majority of Americans are neither reasonable, nor particularly intelligent.

Let's trace part of this fascinating exercise in illogic.

At the end of 2007, a "journalist" named Daniel Pipes ran an article in FrontPage Magazine titled "Was Barack Obama a Muslim?" I won't even delve into the depths of the stupidity and prevarication at the heart of that article, but it was quickly and thoroughly debunked by Media Matters for America.

Now, here's the really cool part. Pipes then responded to this rhetorical horse-whipping with another article of his own, also published in FrontPage Magazine (which should give you some idea of the quality of the writing in that particular publication), wherein he made the attempt to completely bypass any logic-circuits in the reader by wrapping up with the following summary.
But on the larger issue of Obama's religious practices during his Jakarta years, it confirms the Times account. Note in particular three excerpts from Barker's article:

* "Interviews with dozens of former classmates, teachers, neighbors and friends show that Obama was not a regular practicing Muslim when he was in Indonesia" - implying he was an irregularly practicing Muslim.

* "Obama occasionally followed his stepfather to the mosque for Friday prayers, a few neighbors said" - confirming that he did pray in the mosque.

* "Obama's 3rd-grade teacher at the Catholic school, who lived near the family [said that] ‘Rarely, Barry went to the mosque with Lolo'" - confirming that Obama attended mosque services.
Read that again. I dare you. See if you can spot the flaws in that argument.

Here, I'll make it easier for you. The third argument is a reflection of the second, and both indicate that a child should never go anywhere with his father (or stepfather, in this case). As a child, I went with my father to bowling alleys, baseball games, tobacco shops and Lawrence Livermore Laboratories. This does not make me a bowler, a baseball fan, a smoker or a nuclear physicist.

And the first statement is quite simply the most blatant attempt to ignore reality that I've seen recently. Apparently, Mr Pipes can only manage the philosophical equivalent of two children screaming "Is not!" "Is too!"

I believe it was that great philosopher Montgomery Python who explained that an argument is an intellectual process. Contradiction is just the automatic gainsaying of anything the other person says.You can't win an argument with people like this.
He was not a regularly practicing Muslim.

Aha! He was an irregularly practicing Muslim!

He was not a practicing Muslim.

Aha! He was expert at it! He didn't need to practice!

He was not a Muslim.

Aha! He was not a Muslim! So you're saying that he is now?
It's never going to end with this guy. It's like arguing with a rabid weasel. He's just going to keep trying to bite you until you step on his head.

The most current version of this myth comes from an interview with Malik Obama, the half-brother of Barack. Apparently, the Jerusalem Post reported that Malik had told Israel Army Radio that Barack was a Muslim. Strangely enough, the fact that Malik didn't say that doesn't seem to have any effect on the pinheads, liars and wingnuts who insist on spreading this story.

Jake Tapper from ABC News looked into this one, pulled the audio, and showed exactly how ignorant the whole thing is. In fact, he points out that Brit Hume was one of the people spreading this story, on Fox News.

You know, there was a time in my childhood when Brit Hume was a reporter. It's a shame that he's now a shameless hack on a network known for its right-wing bias. Here's how Brit put it.
Throughout his campaign, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has assured his supporters that he is a Christian. He has been battling what his campaign calls an online "smear campaign," which contends, among other things, that Obama was raised as a Muslim. There is even a statement on his official campaign Web site reading, "Obama has never been a Muslim and is a committed Christian."

But, Obama's half-brother is not so sure. Malik Obama tells the Jerusalem Post that if elected his brother will be a good president for the Jewish people — despite his Muslim background.

The article was also accompanied by an image of Malik Obama holding a photo of him and Barack Obama in Muslim dress — reportedly when the two first met in 1985.
Personally, I think that the picture is the best part of the whole thing. I don't know if Brit showed it on screen. It isn't on the Fox "News" website. But here it is.

It's invariably labeled the way Hume described it - with some variation of "Barack Obama and his brother in Muslim dress." And sure, you can say that an African dashiki and hat (called, I believe, a kufi) are "Muslim clothing." Muslim is, after all, one of the primary religions in much of Africa. And by that same logic, you can call blue jeans and a t-shirt "Christian clothing." After all, they're worn extensively in North America and Europe, where the primary religion is Christianity. Or maybe you could just grow up and stop conflating ethnicity and religion.

Incidentally, in case you missed it, Malik Obama didn't meet his half-brother until Barack traveled to Africa in 1988. Barack spent a total of five weeks in Kenya. That would be the sum total of their relationship, except for some genetic material they both share, supplied by their mutual father.

This is a ridiculous lie, but it's not going to go away. There are several types of people who are going to spread it. I'm thinking that the primary groups boil down to four types, though.
1. Right-wing pundits and bloggers, who have proven themselves fully capable of lying (and possibly self-deception in some cases),

2. Gossips, who don't care how true a story is, as long as it's juicy,

3. Bigots and Klansmen, who are willing to believe anything bad about a black man (it's interesting that the current revision of this story comes from "news" out of Israel - it must hurt their heads to be taking the word of a Jew), and

4. Conspiracy theorists, who are already busy constructing Manchurian Candidate scenarios about a secret Muslim plot to take over America from the inside.
OK, so let's get one thing clear. Yes, Obama's father was a Muslim. Saying that an accident of birth makes Obama a Muslim by default is like saying that because her father was a man, Laura Bush is therefore also a man.

And let's point out one more little point. A relatively important point, I think. Barack Obama was born in Hawaii. He lived there until he was seven. He only lived in Jakarta from 1967 through 1971. From the age of seven to the age of ten. He then came back to America. Three years, when he was a child. That would have to be one damned effective indoctrination, if Obama became a walking Muslim timebomb in three years. Our CIA needs to learn from the Jakartans - they can't even get the right answers from people they've been holding for the last five years, much less brainwash them to be American propaganda machines.

It must be the dashiki.

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