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Posted by on Feb 19, 2008 in Media, Politics | 23 comments

Has Obama Been Sufficiently Vetted to Survive the GOP Machine?

Larry C. Johnson of No Quarter has been arguing for quite some time that Obama is insufficiently vetted to withstand attacks from the right. In a recent piece in The Huffington Post, he discusses the basis of his concerns. And while I don’t agree by any means with all Johnson’s conclusions about Obama’s candidacy or Obama himself, the warnings he has sounded and the red flags he has indicated have most certainly given me pause. In fact, it would be fair to say that Johnson’s writings were some of the first to raise serious doubt in my mind about whether Obama is the best candidate for the times (though I continue to hope he will prove to be the presidential candidate of the future).

He writes:

If you think for a minute that the Republican party — who used Willie Horton on Michael Dukakis to devastating effect, who portrayed triple amputee and veteran Max Cleland as a bosom buddy of Osama Bin Laden, and convinced many voters that decorated combat veteran John Kerry was a fraud — will give Obama a pass come the fall then you are in serious denial.

But, unlike the attacks on Dukakis, Cleland, and Kerry, the ammunition that Obama has provided to his political foes is significant and deadly. [Huffpost; links in original]

In light of what we know about GOP tactics, Johnson (like me) is bemused by Obamacrats’ willingness to take him at face value and resistance to questioning (or even allowing anyone else to question) his past and past connections.

“Obama is treated with a reverence and fawning that I have never seen in my life for a political figure,” says Johnson.

Well, yes, and I sort of get why this is, as I am not immune myself to the wish for a clean slate and a candidate who will represent the US to the world as we really are, as we believe ourselves to be.

W has given us a lot to endure. He’s tarnished our idea of ourselves and of what it means to be American. Is it surprising that we’d want our next president to be the Anti-W—someone with no connection to the disreputable past? Why should we settle for a fallible human being whose only promise is to work hard to sort out the current mess? We want, dammit, an iconic president. And Obama seems perfect in this respect. Perhaps every country needs its Princess Diana in these hard, bitter, dangerous times. If only our government were set up to divide the responsibilities of representing us and presiding over the government, the unresolvable issue of the sufficiency Obama’s political cred and past experience would never need to be canvassed. We could install the more experienced candidate to do the dirty work and heavy lifting involved in cleaning up after Bush and could give our love to Obama, the representative and public face of us. Unlike Hillary, he’s the Anti-Bush. Isn’t he?

Maybe; maybe not. Johnson argues that Obama has some significant drawbacks that are likely to be used by the GOP to tarnish or destroy his image.

Obama’s untested Achilles heel is his relationship with three men — Tony Rezko, William Ayers, and Rashid Khalidi. These names will become shorthand for Corruption, Terrorism, and the Destruction of Israel… Unfortunately, the worshipful, servile attitude of many Democrats and media personalities so far has hindered a tough look at Obama’s friends and associates and his judgment. But that will come. What should concern Democrats keen on taking back the White House is whether or not these issues will be fully vetted before Obama is installed as the candidate. My guess is no…. (HuffPost)

To understand Johnson’s specific concerns, please refer to the linked post. If you do read it, please bear in mind his central point: Whether or not these allegations are true or untrue, and whatever (if anything) they show about Obama, the GOP has done much more damage with much less ammunition. In one way, it doesn’t really matter whether they are true or whether there is credible evidence to support them.

And what do Republicans think? I only have anecdotal evidence. I asked an old friend, who served in law enforcement (I’ll leave the particular agency out of it) for more than thirty years, about the William Ayers era. There are a lot of Federal agents who believe that Ayers is a terrorist who got away with his crimes and still owes a debt to society. My friend wrote the following to me today:

I think many of my friends believe Obama is beatable; however they concede that Clinton can win. Therefore, the thinking goes, WE hope Obama gets the Democratic nod and THEN flood the gates with information later.


If these allegations are out there at all—whether true or untrue—shouldn’t Obama’s supporters and the media at least be trying to find out more about them? Hillary can’t bring them up; her campaign can’t even point out facts that can be documented and established by evidence without being accused of this, that, and the other scurrilous attempt to tarnish Obama’s reputation.

In my case, it was the very superficial knowledge of Obama that I have been able to obtain from what’s out there currently that made me jump back off the Obama bandwagon just as I was preparing to climb aboard. As I have said many times, I am not immune to his appeal; when he speaks, I feel just like Chris Matthews. But I don’t feel comfortable supporting a candidate I don’t feel I know for the office of Chief Executive of the United States and the awful (in every sense) job of presiding over the nation in these difficult times. So every time I start to lift the cup of delicious Kool-Aid to my lips, I find myself setting it down again.

Hillary at least has been thoroughly vetted. The so-called ‘scandals’ attributed to her have been completely documented. No amount of digging by her political enemies has succeeded in implicating her in Whitewater and the Lewinsky scandal was all Bill’s doing and doubtless hurt her feelings more than ours. Since then, she’s been in the public eye pretty much all the time.

The Pollyanna-ish part of me wonders whether Americans, including those who were duped the first time, will have learned to discount attempted ‘swiftboatings.’ But then I take a look at what’s being done to Hillary and Bill Clinton in the media and by members of their and my very own party and I begin to despair again.

Johnson, no Pollyanna, predicts:

Feelings of hope and inspiration about Obama will evaporate when the commercials tying him to a convicted felon slumlord, an unrepentant terrorist who hates the troops, and a Professor of Middle Eastern Studies who has been a PLO official spouting anti-Israeli rhetoric. Oh, YES THEY WILL! YES, THEY WILL. (HuffPost)

The comments to the post reveal that a number of Democrats share his concerns. But you can read it yourself and draw your own conclusions.

I don’t think I made it sufficiently clear in my past posts how much I hope that Obama is just as good as he seems—if I’m not enthusiastic about him as a current candidate for the presidency, I certainly hope to see him become a future one. In the meantime, intimations of fallibility do recur. In response, his supporters—instead of acknowledging them—rush to defend him and to reframe/neutralize any potentially unflattering facts. Isn’t Johnson—whether or not you agree with his personal opinion of Obama as a candidate—right about the need not to let partisanship make us as credulous as Bush’s erstwhile supporters?

Aren’t we Democrats supposed, at the very least, to be more cynical than that? Have we learned nothing?