In the Arena

How Ugly? Really, Really Ugly

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There’s a front-page story in the New York Times about the possibility that a right-wing super PAC will launch a racially charged attack against President Obama centering on his relationship with the dreadful Rev. Jeremiah Wright. This is the campaign that John McCain famously, and honorably, refused to launch in 2008. I suspect it probably would have been devastating but not definitive: Obama probably would have won, in any case, having proved his chops to the country by his calm and smart reaction to the financial crisis. But would it work now?

I think, on its face, the campaign is ridiculous, given what we now know of the President. We now know, for one thing, that he isn’t much of a churchgoer — his claim that he wasn’t around for Wright’s incendiary sermons rests on the solid basis of all the Sundays he’s spent playing basketball and on the golf course. More important, we know that Barack Obama — Barack Hussein Obama — is an American patriot who has waged a highly successful war against this nation’s terrorist enemies, especially al-Qaeda. The notion that he is some sort of secret Muslim terrorist, which festered in 2008 (and festers still among some profoundly damaged people), has been proved to be hateful drivel. Even the notion that he is some sort of leftist seems silly: he didn’t break up or nationalize the big Wall Street banks, his health care and climate-change proposals were Republican ideas.

So what is this all about? Actually, it’s about taxes. The disgraceful gazillionaire, Joe Ricketts, who commissioned the proposal for this ad campaign is mostly concerned about “ending spending.” What on earth does that have to do with Jeremiah Wright? Well, there is a twisted school of thought that government spending is all about giving poor people money and lining the pockets of charlatans like Wright. That’s nonsense, of course. Government spending is all about giving money to the elderly to pay for pensions and health care, and giving money to maintain a strong military. We pay $1 billion per year for Head Start; we pay $820 billion for Social Security; we pay $85 billion for food stamps (much of which goes to people who lost their jobs in the Wall Street crash-recession); we pay $853 billion for defense. Over the past 30 years we’ve seen that Democrats want to pay those bills and Republicans don’t.

Obama could have and should have done more to pare down unnecessary programs and government regulations. It is fair game to attack him for deficit spending, for Obamacare, for Dodd-Frank. But the President has shown that the Wright-induced fears were groundless. He’s not a black militant. He’s a moderate. And I must say that any attempt to inject race into this campaign, in such a gross manner, could have vast unintended consequences for the Republican Party — which has done its best to alienate blacks and Hispanics — in a country where the majority of births are now nonwhite.