Sunday, December 02, 2007


How many times has Frank Rich naively forecast the imminent end of the dominant GOP as we know it? Today he was doing it again, this time as a consequence of a possible upset in the Democratic primaries:

... the Republicans have fallen into a trap by continuing to cling to the Hillary-is-inevitable trope. They have not allowed themselves to think the unthinkable -- that they might need a Plan B to go up against a candidate who is not she. It's far from clear that they would remotely know how to construct a Plan B to counter Mr. Obama. The repeated attempts to fan "rumors" that he is a madrassa-indoctrinated Muslim -- whether on Fox News or in The Washington Post, where they resurfaced scurrilously on the front page on Thursday -- are too demonstrably false to survive endless reruns even in the Swift-boating era.

Oh, give me a break. If they hadn't "allowed themselves to think the unthinkable," they wouldn't have come up with the strategy of floating the madrassa rumor in the first place. And recall that the sub rosa spread of that rumor is working quite effectively:

In the Wichita [evangelical] churches this summer, Obama was the Democrat who drew the most interest. Several mentioned that he had spoken at [Rick] Warren's Saddleback church and said they were intrigued. But just as many people ruled out Obama because they suspected that he was not Christian at all but in fact a crypto-Muslim -- a rumor that spread around the Internet earlier this year. "There is just that ill feeling, and part of it is his faith," Welsh said. "Is his faith anti-Christian? Is he a Muslim? And what about the school where he was raised?"

"Obama sounds too much like Osama," said Kayla Nickel of Westlink. "When he says his name, I am like, 'I am not voting for a Muslim!'"

(Now, I wouldn't care what evangelicals think of Obama, except for the fact that we keep being told, by Frank Rich and others, that evangelicals' loyalty to the GOP is no longer absolute and that their votes are in play in '08. I don't believe that, but everybody else does.)

And if hinting at a madrassa education or frequently repeatedly noting that Obama's middle name is Hussein isn't effective, the GOP character-assassination machine will tell us that his ties to indicted fund-raiser Tony Rezko are sleazy, or that the pastor of his church is a black separatist, or that he'd leave America vulnerable because he'd talk to Chavez or Ahmedinejad. And those are just the cards the GOP has chosen to show now. They'll portray him as "Obambi" -- I can just image Republican operatives going on the new Imus show and chortling with the host about how "whipped" he is. (Sorry, I just spend way too much in the heads of the right-wingers. Sometimes I feel like an FBI profiler trying to think like a psycho killer. But mark my words, this will happen.)

I don't care if (as Rich says) many Republicans have praised Obama. I don't care if Hillary is an singularly delectable object of their hatred. Republicans will Swift-boat anyone who runs against them, and the media will play along.

But the biggest vulnerability Obama has, I fear, is preciusely what he's praised for most -- his "post-partisanship." I'm afraid that's a nice way of saying he won't get his back up and (apart from opposition to the war) strenuously challenge Republican policies. And I'm afraid it means he won't fight back hard enough if he's attacked on any grounds whatsoever.

I've been through this before, with a Democratic presidential candidate who also wasn't born into the ruling class (he was the son of Greek immigrants), who also got a great education nonetheless in the Northeast, who also liked to remain even-tempered on the campaign trail, and who didn't denounce partisanship in so many words but did say, "This election is not about ideology. It's about competence." Michael Dukakis, of course, had his head handed to him by the Republicans in 1988. He seemed constitutionally incapable of fighting back -- just as Obama seems to have made it a matter of principle not to be a battling ideologue. I can't bear a repeat of twenty years ago.

If Obama wins the nomination, I hope I'm dead wrong about him. I hope he fights -- or I hope the public rallies to him precisely because he won't wallow in the gutter with the sleazebags of the GOP. But I worry that he's just the kind of candidate the GOP can chew up and spit out.


UPDATE: Yes, I didn't address the obvious question -- how Obama's race affects his electability. See my answer in comments -- I don't think there's a simple answer to that, and I think the issue plays out indirectly. And also see dnA's comment, and the post he links.

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