In the Arena

Scholarship

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I heard about Jerome Corsi’s book a few weeks ago from my mother, who said that her great fear–that Barack Obama has covert Islamic associations–had been confirmed by a new book. I told her not to worry, that many reputable people had looked into the matter and Obama was more likely to be spotted in Whole Foods than praying in a mosque. (Since my mother has never been to Whole Foods, so she didn’t quite get my wry allusion.) “I hope so,” she said, dubiously.

So we know the market for trash is there, and not so far from home. And we know, that Mary Matalin, who appears regularly on mainstream media programs like Meet the Press called the Corsi book in the New York Times today:

“a piece of scholarship, and a good one at that.”

But hey, Mary stands to make big bucks off this scholarship, which I’m sure was submitted for peer review and otherwise held to the highest editorial standards–and I’m sure her reputation and mediagenicity won’t be damaged by this poisonous crap, and we’re all friends here, aren’t we? And, yknow, they say politics ain’t beanbag…and it’s all in the game to tell innocent, well-intentioned people that Barack Obama is a secret Muslim or that John Kerry wasn’t really a hero in Vietnam. Or, as George W. Bush, once told a rightly outraged John McCain–whose wife and daughter Bush’s minions had smeared–”It’s just politics.”

Back in the day, John McCain was the sort of politician who would stand first in line to call out this sort of swill. (As, I’m sure Barack Obama or John Kerry would do, if some hate-crazed, money-grubbing left-winger published a book claiming that McCain had been successfully brainwashed in Vietnam–as Kerry did indeed do when a group of spurious Bush-backing Vietnam vets tried to claim exactly that about McCain during the 2000 Republican primary in South Carolina.)

But we’re not seeing those sorts of claims being made about McCain this year…because Democrats tend not to do that sort of thing. They are the sorts of claims that Republicans–Bush Republicans–make. They range from the blatantly extra-curricular, like Corsi’s book, to the official McCain-sanctioned introduction made by Joe Lieberman–of all people–yesterday: that Obama doesn’t “put America first.”

I know that people like me are supposed to try to be fair…and balanced. (The Fox mockery of our sappy professional standards seems more brutally appropriate with each passing year.) In the past, I would achieve a semblance–or an illusion–of balance by criticizing Democrats for not responding effectively when right-wing sludge merchants poisoned our national elections with their filth and lies. And it is true, as John Kerry knows, that a more effective response–and a bolder campaign–might have neutralized the Swiftboat assault four years ago. It is also true that Corsi’s book this time is far less effective than his Swiftboat venture, since it doesn’t come equipped with veterans willing to defile their service by telling lies to camera.

But there is no excuse for what the McCain campaign is doing on the “putting America first” front. There is no way to balance it, or explain it other than as evidence of a severe character defect on the part of the candidate who allows it to be used. There is a straight up argument to be had in this election: Mcain has a vastly different view from Obama about foreign policy, taxation, health care, government action…you name it. He has lots of experience; it is always shocking to remember that this time four years ago, Barack Obama was still in the Illinois State Legislature. Apparently, though, McCain isn’t confident that conservative policies and personal experience can win, given the ruinous state of the nation after eight years of Bush. So he has made a fateful decision: he has personally impugned Obama’s patriotism and allows his surrogates to continue to do that. By doing so, he has allied himself with those who smeared him, his wife, his daughter Bridget, in 2000. Those tactics won George Bush a primary–and a nomination. But they proved a form of slow-acting spiritual poison, rotting the core of the Bush presidency. We’ll see if the public decides to acquiesce in sleaze in 2008, and what sort of presidency–what sort of country–that will produce.

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