WHAT VOTERS DO RIGHTIES THINK THEY'RE REACHING WITH THIS CHURCHILL OBSESSION?
I missed the big Churchill dust-up yesterday. As I understand it, Charles Krauthammer accused President Obama of insulting the British by contemptuously returning a bust of Winston Churchill that had been in the Oval Office for most of the Bush years; the White House botched the fact-check, first saying that the bust had never been returned, then acknowledging that there were two Churchill busts in the White House, one still on display, the other returned, as per custom, at the end of George W. Bush's term.
This has been an obsession of the right throughout the Obama years -- and for the life of me I can't figure out why it's coming up in an election year (Mitt Romney pointedly says he wants the other bust back). I mean, I know it's meant to make Obama look bad -- but to whom? Who cares about this except people who are already certain to vote for Romney anyway?
Imagine you're a low-information swing voter and a moderate. Here's the pitch: Barack Obama is a bad American because he returned the bust of ... a foreign guy. A guy who was prime minister of another country. A guy who was prime minister of another country long before you were born. (In fact, if you're 46 or younger, he died before you were born.) And Obama replaced Churchill in the Oval Office with (depending on the story) either Abraham Lincoln -- one of America's great presidents! -- or Martin Luther King -- a national hero! (Remember, we're talking about moderate swing voters, not racists or neo-Confederates. The latter groups are in Romney's camp already. The former really do tend to admire Lincoln and King.)
Oh, and there were two Churchill busts and Obama still has one.
Where's the insult? Obama's not a patriot because he replaced a non-American with an American? Hunh?
The Americans who still revere Churchill are, apart from Fox viewers who've successfully undergone the usual Pavlovian conditioning, octogenarians who lived through (or fought in) World War II. But Obama's already struggling with older voters, and he never had the ones most inclined to see him as foreign and "other," even in 2008. How many people does this tip into the GOP camp?
The bizarre thing about this is that it all dates back to the right's period of Tony Blair hero-worship because Blair backed Bush to the hilt in the Iraq War -- a conflict that most Americans now regard as a dreadful mistake.
Back in 1999, a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll presented a list of eighteen famous people from the twentieth century and asked U.S. respondents to chose the greatest figure of the century from among them. Churchill finished tenth out of eighteen, well behind Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, JFK, Einstein, Helen Keller, FDR, and others. (Funny -- FDR was Churchill's stalwart ally in World War II, and denigrating him is never regarded as unpatriotic.)
This poll was conducted thirteen years ago. Do non-Fox viewers in America admire Churchill more now, with the passage of time? I doubt it.