Co-written with James Boyce, first published at Huffington Post.
Senator Barack Obama is a man to be admired, respected and liked. He is more than worthy of consideration for the Democratic Nomination in 2008 and if we were advising Senator Obama, and his equally impressive wife Michelle, our advice would be to run, and run now. A Vice Presidency certainly looks attractive on one’s resume, and a national campaign brings valuable experience.
Senator Obama is admired and he is loved. Look at the recent favorability polls and there he is, the Number One Democrat in America. But why? Why is a junior Senator, nationally a virtual unknown just two years ago, now at the top of the national favorability ratings? Is it because of his new book? His great 2004 Convention Speech? His appearance on Oprah? All of these, of course, but in fairness, does Barack Obama truly deserve to be the Democratic leader with the highest national favorability in a recent poll? Hardly.
With complete respect to Senator Obama, where are the long-time Democratic leaders who have dedicated their lives to the service of our country? Where are the other possible Presidential contenders? What about Bill Clinton, Al Gore and John Kerry? Where are Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid? Are they not leaders that deserve at the very least to have decent favorability ratings?
Why is Barack Obama “favorable” and not any of the better-known Democratic leaders? And why – of all people is Rudy Guiliani at the top of the list as the Number One leader in our country? The answer is simple, and dramatic.
This favorability poll proves the power of the Right Wing’s ongoing and successful strategy of “SELL and SMEAR.”
Of course, pundits and commentators fell over themselves to see who could be the first or the wittiest in their ridiculing of John Kerry for his place finish. They pondered Guiliani’s victory and Senator Obama’s high rating. But they missed the point.
With concentrated and coordinated efforts between the conservative movement organizations, political leaders and the press, we have been SOLD the myth of Rudy Guiliani as a strong leader just as they’ve SMEARED John Kerry to the point where he is, sadly, damaged goods contemplating the potential end of a thirty-plus year career of service.
Three Democratic leaders on the poll have faced the full wrath of the smear machine, two as the Democratic Presidential Nominee, the third as co-target of the attacks on President Clinton. And where are Al Gore, John Kerry and Hillary Clinton? All are near the bottom of the rankings with favorability of under 50%. That is the power of the smear machine. This is what the machine does to our leaders – the leaders of the party of the people. It smears and attacks and destroys them.
Our point here is not whether you will vote for them, or volunteer for their campaign, or give them money, but do you, the American voting public, have a favorable impression of these leaders?
The sad and resounding answer is no. This is what the machine does to Democratic and Progressive leaders. It smears, and attacks and destroys them. It leaves millions of Americans with an uneasy feeling about John Kerry or Hillary Clinton, a bad taste in the mouth, “I don’t know. I just don’t like him.” It’s emotional. It’s not rational. But it is very, very real.
And it’s not just these our most recent leaders. As we wrote last week, President Jimmy Carter left office virtually in disgrace. What about Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis? Are they perceived as what they really are – respected leaders who are both true American success stories? Hardly. They are perceived in the “conventional wisdom” as jokes and afterthoughts.
Those powerful negative stereotypes were carefully created by the use of brilliant marketing, coordinated messaging, virtually unlimited budgets and a complete lack of morals.
To understand how powerful, coordinated and most importantly effective this system is and to fully appreciate what it means to have faced the wrath of the machine, next time you’re having dinner surrounded by Democrats, say this:
“John Kerry is an authentic American war hero.”
Watch the reaction. At best, people will acknowledge that he served. At worst, they will laugh at you. But he is. If anyone can claim to be an authentic American war hero it’s John Kerry. He volunteered for the Navy out of Yale. He volunteered for Vietnam. He volunteered for Swift Boat duty. He was wounded three times and received three Purple Hearts, a Silver Star and a Bronze Star with Combat V.
Wait a minute. We know what you’re thinking. But call anyone you know who has served in combat with the Navy, in World War II, in Vietnam or since. And ask them: does the Navy just hand out Purple Hearts like jelly beans? They’ll laugh at you and tell you ‘Of course not. There are procedures and paperwork.’ No one gave those medals to John Kerry – he earned them. He is a war hero. But people “just don’t like him.”
And then there’s Al Gore. Al Gore is one of the most remarkable leaders our country has had over the past twenty-five years. A Vietnam veteran, Congressman and Senator, Al Gore was visionary on Global Warming and the environment, actually did lead the development of the Internet, was an active Vice President fully participating in the administration that gave this country its finest years of the last forty.
Next, look at the background of Gore’s opponent in the 2000 Presidential Election. And imagine that, remarkably, when all was said and done character emerged as the dominant theme of the 2000 campaign and it was Vice President Gore’s character that was being called into question!
Just think about that for a minute – consider what kind of psychological manipulation of the public had to happen before that could be the case.
Now we are seeing the same pattern repeated with another 2008 hopeful, Senator Hillary Clinton. Every single American should have a favorable impression of Senator Clinton, regardless of whether or not they are supporting her as a potential candidate.
Hillary Clinton is the first woman in our nation’s history, the very first, to have a legitimate shot at becoming President. She is an inspiration. She has the chance to make history. And yet, we repeat the Right Wing talking points about her. We say that she is “polarizing.” And we say that she is “hated in her own party.” And then there’s that omnipresent, “I don’t know, I just don’t like her.”
What about the image of the Democratic Party itself?
Have you ever wondered how exactly it is that the Democrats are perceived as “weak on defense” when Nixon was the one who surrendered in Vietnam, and Roosevelt, Truman and Kennedy were Democrats? When so many of the leadership and candidates of the Democratic Party are veterans while so few of the Republicans are?
Did you know that George McGovern was a World War II bomber pilot? And remember, in the debate on Iraq, we have John Kerry, Jack Murtha, Max Cleland, Joe Sestak, Chris Carney, Patrick Murphy, Richard Holbrooke, Wesley Clark, and more – all veterans. Our party collects war heroes as leaders. Their leaders collect deferments. And yet? They’re perceived as the party of National Security. Why? Because they have spent billions telling us that it is so.
Look at any stock market or economic historic growth charts. The second half of the 1990s, under the leadership of Bill Clinton and brilliant business minds like Bob Rubin and Erskine Bowles, gave us a time of incredible growth. And historically Democratic Presidencies have higher economic and stock market growth. And Democrats reduce budget deficits while Republican increase them. Yet people perceive that Democrats are bad for the economy? Why? Because they’ve spent billions telling us that it is so.
How about character and morals? The Right tries to tell us there is a “culture war” and they are on the side of morals and character. But look at the corruption scandals of the Nixon, Reagan and Bush presidencies and the Republican congress, or the parade of sex scandals involving Right Wing and Republican leaders. How many members of the Carter or Clinton administrations do you think were found to be corrupt? So why the oddly skewed perceptions? Because they spent billions telling us so.
This story is far greater than a blog post.
Over the past several years – through the attacks and fruitless investigations of Bill Clinton, the “ozoning” of Al Gore and the fateful Swift Boat attacks – we have spent considerable time analyzing and investigating the process by which the Right Wing, systematically and with complete coordination, destroys Democratic leaders. With tragic consequences like the deficit, the war, the loss of manufacturing jobs, the deteriorating environment and health care and wages and infrastructure – how long is this list?
Imagine if Al Gore had been President the last six years. Would we be farther along in solving global warming, the greatest challenge to face our nation and the world? Would we have paid down more of our debt instead of going back to massive budget deficits?
Imagine if John Kerry had been President the last two years. The Iraq Study Group’s proposals contain many of the elements of John Kerry’s 2004 Iraq plan he championed during the campaign. Would we be further along the road to a resolution in Iraq?
Working on The Patriot Project this fall along with the indefatigable Taylor Marsh and fighting back against the smearing of candidates in the 2006 election, we wrote many posts and coordinated press coverage on the Right Wing attacks on candidates and incumbents across the country. We researched the backgrounds and connections of the people and organizations behind the smear operations. This work is the basis for some news that we will be announcing soon.
Finally, back to Senator Barack Obama. Or is that “Balak HUSSEIN Osama” – as some Right Wing commentators are saying it already? What will happen when he faces the wrath of the Right’s machine? Will we still love him then?
Will our fellow Americans start saying, “I don’t know, I just don’t like him.” Will we let him be smeared? Will we let Senator Clinton and Vice President Gore be smeared again? Will we let John Kerry’s legacy be destroyed?
The answer has to be a resounding no. The Right’s $mear machine is one of the most powerful, destructive and pervasive forces of our time. It has to be understood for what it is, fought back against, exposed and destroyed. Not just for Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry, and everyone else who will or has faced its wrath. But for us, our children, our future and most importantly, our democracy.