But how much life is there in the old smear machine? In terms of "smears and rumors of smears," the big item is a rumor. Right-wing bloggers are bragging that someone has dug up a video of Michell Obama using the term "whitey" in a public forum.
But so far no tape.
The Sean Hannity approach to smearing is to slime Obama as a "radical." Here are a couple of Hannity's comments from an article by Andy Ostoy in Huffington Post.
"I am telling you, Barack Obama will move this country in a direction that is so radical that it will shock your senses."
"He (Obama) has views that would probably shock the average American."
"He's a Radical left winger, to the left of George McGovern."
Hanity's even re-named his show The Stop Radical Obama Express. But we need to be careful in determining how calling Obama a radical is a smear. In many ways, it's logical for someone like Hannity to view Obama as "hardcore leftist." Hannity is so far to the right that he views Democratic proposals for national health insurance as "socialized medicine" and probably still believes that social security is part of the growth of "communism" in the United States. For Hannity, it takes a "radical left-winger" to contemplate NOT attacking Iran and Syria.
The smear lies in dredging up the names of "dangerously" left-wing or black nationalist "friends" of Obama, magnifying the significance of every direct or indirct connection Obama may have had with them--perhaps even fantasize some connections--and implying that their agendas have to be Obama's agenda. Here's the conservative blog Protein Wisdom flogging Obama's "radical connections" for all they're worth.
As to the only specific claim Ostroy raises, it is pretty easy to point toward Obama’s longtime personal and fundraising relationship with former PLO flack Rashid Khalidi, including the thousands Obama (and Ayers) helped funnel to the Arab American Action Network, run by Khalidi’s wife, which calls Israel’s founding a “catastrophe.” Indeed the evil Hannity covered this on television recently. Or one could point to to the high-level staffers who are Nation of Islam members, or to his past relationship with Palestinian activist and Islamist Ali Abunimah. Or to the longtime spiritual adviser who declared Israel a “dirty word,” gave Louis Farrakhan a Lifetime Achievement award, and reprinted a Hamas manifesto. Or to Obama’s coterie of advisers urging a more “even-handed” approach to the Israeli conflict, and his previously stated desire to unconditionally meet with with Iranian Pres. Ahmadinejad – who is known for denying the Holocaust and wanting to wipe Israel off the map. Indeed, Obama cannot help but echo Arab-Palestinian positions, even in trying to make himself appear pro-Israel.
If anyone can actually follow Protein Wisdom's tortured innuendo, the idea is that Obama's relationship with an unnamed spiritual adviser (Jeremiah Wright) implies that Obama approves of Louis Farrakhan. That is a smear. Obama doesn't approve of Jeremiah Wright's black nationalism let alone Farrakhan's. Protein Wisdom also implies in a smearing kind of way that Obama peddled a Hamas manifesto on the streets of Washington while he was a senator and wants to conspire with Ahmadinejad to wipe Israel off the map.
But this stuff is so thin that it might as well be called "diet smearing." What happened to the big, fat play to racial fears in the Willie Horton ads or the blatant lies of the swiftboating campaign against John Kerry? Why can't the GOP attack dogs claim that Obama is gay, that he has gang connections, or that he murdered somebody in Chicago? Republican smear artists portrayed Bill Clinton as a serial killer responsible for half the deaths in Arkansas as well as Vince Foster. Why can't they accuse Barack Obama of killing one person out of all the murders in Chicago last year?
Ultimately, it's just as tough an environment for right-wing smear artists as it is for the Republican Party in general. Yesterday's smears just don't cut it anymore. On the one hand, tolerance for the blatant kinds of racial stereotyping of the Willie Horton ad has decreased dramatically since 1988. Tolerance for gay stereotypes isn't that high either. Another problem for Republican smear artists is that the rise of liberal blogging means that any attempt at smearing is going to be met with a combination of moral outrage and ridicule by the left.
It also means that smears are going to be fact checked. So it's going to be a lot tougher to lie about Obama being a gang member than it was about the Clintons killing Vince Foster.
Because of the tough environment for high-profile smearing, right-wing smearing smearing has gone underground with conservatives spreading e-mail rumors that Barack Obama is a Muslim. Clearly these efforts have had an effect. Some of my daughter's eighth-grade friend now assume that Obama's a Muslim.
But the effect is primarily with voters who already oppose Obama. The GOP attack artists have not been able to come up with an approach to smearing Obama that "moves numbers" in the sense of convincing a significatnt percentage of voters to support John McCain.
Perhaps they won't.