So there’s this guy who lives in my neighborhood. Actually, he lives right down the street from me. He’s nice enough, got a big toothy smile, warm and disarming voice, even has a couple of cute young kids. But a couple of years ago he started going away for days and even weeks at a time. I don’t see him very often anymore—usually only on the weekends. His secretary says he’s away on business. Whatever that means. He’s really concerned about national security, too, for someone who looks like a foreigner.
I think my neighbor is a terrorist.
—Paranoid in Palevsky
Your neighbor is none other than Barack Obama, former U of C law school professor and the 49th man to represent Illinois in the U.S. Senate. But if a recent report on “Fox and Friends,” a morning show, is any indicator, Barack might just be using his lofty position and considerable sway among progressives to destroy our good Christian nation from within.
Citing “reports” that Obama attended a maddrassa Muslim school in Jakarta, Indonesia when he was six, the pundits and their callers went on to suggest that, among other flaws, he might have conflicted loyalties in the war on terror.
There is much to debate about Obama the candidate. He is relatively inexperienced, and for all his skill at uniting audiences behind grand ideas, he is still a liberal senator from a liberal state. But his heritage has always stood out above the fray as something to be admired. Or so we would hope. The attack from Fox has put all of Obama’s non-political attributes back into his play: his dad’s religious beliefs, his name—particularly the middle one—his kindergarten education. You know, the important stuff.
Like John Kerry’s war record two years ago, Obama’s life story is quickly shaping up to become the seemingly irrelevant issue that won’t go away in the 2008 race for the White House. If the pride of Hyde Park is to have any shot at the Oval Office, he will need to establish himself as more than just a nice story and assume the role of a man with genuine ideas. And he needs to do it early.
Heritage has always been a central issue in Barack Obama’s popularity. For the most part, his bi-racial ancestry has helped his ascent, with many seeing in his story as something not too dissimilar from their own. Historically polarized cultures—of east and west, black and white, and Muslim and Christian—all converge at various points of Obama’s life, just as they do in American society past and present, but without the discernable conflict. His tale is one of smooth integration, where east is east and west is west and seamlessly the twain shall meet. Obama’s story is a testament to the nation’s never-failing powers of assimilation.
That is how his heritage has played in the past, during the 14 years he spent representing Hyde Park in the Illinois Senate and for his four-year cup of coffee in United States Senate. But this is a general election, and the standards are always lower when cable news networks get involved.
As repulsive as the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth were, their effectiveness was due in large part to Kerry’s constant rehashing of his wartime heroics. By surrounding himself with relics of his service in Vietnam, he created the lightning rod and then acted surprised when it drew static. An otherwise flattering character accessory was transformed into an overbearing and pompous act, because it was allowed to fester.
There’s no need for Obama to deliver a speech like the one John F. Kennedy delivered in Houston in 1960, defending his Catholicism, nor is there a need for him to run from his past. But he must rise above it, or the campaign will only get uglier and uglier. The attack from Fox, while excessively ignorant and significantly disturbing, is only the beginning of the mudslinging.
If Obama is going to win the general election, he is going to have to move beyond the nice story and the funny name and establish himself as a man of genuine ideas. He’ll have to navigate around the label of inexperience label and convince Democrats that in a stacked field, he is their best bet to win over new voters and lead America into the next decade.
Or the terrorists win.