Posted on Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Given the wholesale failure of the Bush presidency and the
bankruptcy of Republican ideology, Sen. John McCain’s only shot at the
White House is to caricature Sen. Barack Obama as an elitist girly-man
who can’t keep America safe. Unfortunately, Obama has given GOP
propagandists a fair amount to work with. Although the national press
ignored it during the great anti-Clinton crusade, his Chicago past is
replete with potential embarrassments. One example: Remember when
everybody got huffy at ABC’s George Stephanopoulos for asking Obama
about William Ayers, the Weather Underground radical who bombed the
Pentagon in 1972? Obama described him as an “English professor” and
slight acquaintance who happened to live in his neighborhood. That was
disingenuous at best. Ayers is a professor of education and a prominent
figure in Chicago school circles, sufficiently well-known that Mayor
Richard M. Daley publicly defended him from Stephanopoulos’
insinuations. Moreover, one of Obama’s earliest Chicago jobs was as the
director of a controversial school reform organization in which Ayers
was a major player. (Ayers’ father once ran Commonwealth Edison, the
city’s electric utility.) Obama’s earliest political fund-raiser in 1995
was held at Ayers’ home. They appeared together in forums at the
University of Chicago for whom the school’s public relations contact
was, yes, Michelle Obama.
I’m prepared to believe that Ayers has matured. Nor is Obama responsible
for acts Ayers committed when Obama was 8. So why does it matter? Partly
because a publicity photo for Ayers’ 1993 book, “Fugitive Days: A
Memoir,” telling the story of his anti-Vietnam radicalism shows the
bespectacled professor wiping his feet on an American flag. He’s also
boasted about never going to prison despite his terrorist acts. Obama
favorably reviewed the book in the Chicago Tribune. Puts a new spin on
his mockery of Baby Boomer “psychodrama,” no?
Partly, too, because while the Clinton campaign was too dainty to use
such inflammatory imagery, Republican operatives won’t be. As with Rev.
Jeremiah Wright’s bizarre ramblings, it strikes me as evidence of (A)
political immaturity, (B) arrogance or (C) both for Obama not to have
given Ayers his “Sister Souljah” moment years ago. Also as with Wright,
his first instinct was to dissemble. Did even Obama’s most enthusiastic
supporters ever believe that “God damn America” was news to him?
Republican TV ads depicting Hillary Clinton calling Obama “naïve” are
merely the opening gambit. Things are sure to get very rough before it’s
over. The national media will join in. Just yesterday, somebody sent me
a cbsnews. com article headlined, “Obama’s Radical-Left Ties Broad and
Deep.” It’s filled with information that the press neglected during the
anti-Hillary bitch hunt.
Maybe I’ve lived too long in the South, ground zero in the GOP’s
“Southern Strategy.” And maybe Obama can transcend it all with feel-good
rhetoric about “change,” possibly not the most original political
slogan, but something everybody wants.
I’d also bet a lot that the only way he offers Clinton the
vice-presidential nomination is as political theater after she’s
privately agreed to turn it down. Why would she choose VP over Senate
majority leader, a more powerful job definitely within her reach? Were I
Obama, I’d take a long look at Nebraska Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel: a
strong conservative, an Iraq war skeptic from the get-go, a Vietnam
combat veteran and a serious man.
Obama’s initial outing at last week’s AIPAC convention—American Israel
Public Affairs Committee—didn’t do much to foster confidence. Seeking to
win over Jewish voters leery of the Wright/Farrakhan ties, he came off
as a bigger Likudnik (Israeli neo-conservative) than Clinton, and that’s
going some. Obama drew applause by declaring that the city of Jerusalem
“must remain undivided” under Israeli rule. After Palestinian leaders
objected, he backtracked within 24 hours, retreating to the Bush
administration’s more sensible view that Jerusalem’s status be
negotiated during peace talks.
So how does Obama get around the “naïve” business? Not by dissembling,
but fighting back. Consider Jerusalem, for example. You wouldn’t call
the hardline Likudnik position naïve. Words like “delusional,” and
“tribal,” however, do come to mind. Sacred to all three monotheistic
religions—Christianity, Judaism and Islam—Jerusalem was a divided city
from 1948 to 1967, when the Israelis conquered it by force. Its hundreds
of thousands of Palestinian residents, whose ancestors have lived there
since biblical times, are not considered Israeli citizens and cannot
vote. Meanwhile, Israelis keep taking Palestinian land for illegal
settlements as the Arab slums fester and decay. So long as these things
are true, there can never be peace or justice. The great majority of
Israeli citizens understand that. So do most American Jews. So does
Obama. Instead of mimicking McCain’s cartoonish neo-conservatism, he
owes it to the American people to explain that ignoring reality isn’t
evidence of strength, but stupidity.
—–––––•–––––—Free-lance columnist Gene Lyons is a Little Rock author and
recipient of the National Magazine Award.