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The Battalion

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One step away
June 8, 2024

Six is Nine | Political mud

Overt sexism is still alive and real, whether in the form of clever young men yelling at Hillary Clinton to “Iron my shirt!” or a budding entrepreneur’s creation of the knee-slappingly hilarious Hillary Clinton nutcracker. On the other hand, racism has gone undercover. Since it is no longer politically expedient to assert that Barack Obama has big lips or an affinity for watermelon and fried chicken, detractors must find new and creative ways of convincing the average American voter that Obama – a black guy! – has principles and priorities that are as different from theirs as night is to day, and black is to white.
So far, two slightly contradictory caricatures of Obama have been drawn: Obama the covert
‘Islamofacist’ and Obama the angry black Christian who hates white people.
A few weeks ago, the conversation was about whether or not Obama is – gasp! – a Muslim. There are few things Americans trust less than people who do not announce their Christian religious affiliation whenever feasible. When it comes to elections, the unofficial religious litmus test trumps all.
According to the Pew Research Center, 45 percent of American voters would be less likely to vote for a Muslim. While this statistic should be completely irrelevant for a Christian like Obama, astoundingly effective smear tactics make this not so. More respondents incorrectly identified Obama as a Muslim than identified him correctly, as a Christian. Though Obama has repeatedly discussed his Christian faith in speeches and in debates, over 80% were unsure of his religious affiliation. Imagine if the same uncertainty existed about John McCain’s faith. Absurd, no? Political rivals of McCain have nothing to gain by fostering doubt about his religious affiliation, so this scenario is inconceivable.
The name of the game for Obama’s political opponents has been to promote the idea that the Senator, our fellow American, is not like us. Conservative columnist Debbie Schlussel asks,
“[E]ven if he identifies strongly as a Christian… is a man who Muslims think is a Muslim… a man we want as president when we are fighting the war of our lives against Islam? Where will his loyalties be?”
We are constantly reminded of offenses that presumably make Obama unfit for the presidency: his childhood experiences with Islam; his failure to participate in the ultimate display of patriotism – the flag lapel — and that time in Africa when he wore the weird outfit.
Worst of all is conservative pundits’ endless repetition of Obama’s full name – Barack Hussein Obama – or even better, Rush Limbaugh’s darling little problem of confusing Osama bin Laden with Barack Obama. (It’s so hard to remember the difference between murderous fascists and peaceful Americans when they have funny names!) Of course, Obama is not part of the “Islamofacist” threat we’re all supposed to be peeing our pants over, but acknowledging this and moving on does nothing for the rock-throwing, name calling playground politics so beloved by the intellectually and morally challenged.
At the moment, we are acknowledging Obama as a Christian, but only to the extent that we can rip him a new one over stupid things his pastor said. Footage of Reverend Wright going on a rampage has played round the clock since the story broke. Though little was said in the 2004 elections when numerous reports surfaced of church leaders denying communion to supporters of John Kerry, Fox News suddenly has the audacity to ask, “How political should pastors get from the pulpit?”
Considering the role of evangelical leaders like Reverand Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson in determining both the political leaders and landscape of the present, the assertion that there is in fact a line to be crossed is dubious indeed. Wright’s remarks, while egregious, certainly did not surpass those that have been made by the aforementioned, who have claimed, among other things, that God intended blacks to serve whites, that we had Sept. 11 and Katrina coming to us, and that the purple teletubby is gay. Wright’s unfortunate mistake is that he touched upon that most carefully guarded taboo in American politics: race.
While the safe move for a politician confronted with this situation would be to downplay and move on, Obama did the opposite. After all, that’s what John McCain did about John Hagee’s anti-Catholic, occasionally anti-American rhetoric; that’s what Hillary Clinton did about Gerraldine Ferrero’s craziness. It is typically the norm for politicians to put their heads in the sand and ignore the real social problems such political faux pauxs reveal, but not this time. Obama spoke to Americans as if we were adults capable of realizing common American aims which surpass those of race and religion.
Truth be told, it is easy to win votes by espousing love for Jesus and avoiding controversy, but Americans should no longer settle for such superficial evaluations of the suitability of their candidates for office. It is far harder to refuse to wholeheartedly condemn parts of one’s past for their failure to conform to what popular culture tells us is required of a presidential candidate, and instead understand them as reflections of social realities that demand deeper consideration.
The Obama campaign’s predominating themes of hope and optimism are revolutionary in their refusal to sink to the mudslinging that has become politics as usual. So far, Obama’s ability to meet each would-be scandal with intelligent discussion instead of political damage control has kept him above the fray, but this time the big guns are out. Whether the public will continue to embrace political discourse consisting of candidates trying to outdo each other by digging up one another’s worst, “Oh no he didn’t!” moments, or rise above it in favor of intelligent discussion is still to be seen. Are Americans ready for their politicians to stop treating them like children? Only time will tell.
Amanda Kieser is a senior sociology major.

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