Obama vs. Father Coughlin, Joe McCarthy, and George Wallace?

Newsweek’s May 5 cover story professes to address Barack Obama’s "Bubba Gap," the growing chasm between the would-be Democratic nominee and white "working class" voters. Evan Thomas, Holly Bailey, and Richard Wolffe don’t so much report on the gap as complain about hateful conservative rumor-mongering. The authors complain that Obama is not just running against Mrs. Clinton or Sen McCain, but against every historical hobgoblin who liberals can dig out of a musty closet. Obama's not only opposed by George W. Bush, who hates pointy-headed intellectuals, but in Newsweek's historical imagination by "demagogues like the anti-Semitic right-wing radio priest of the 1940s, Father Charles Coughlin; Red-baiter Sen. Joe McCarthy of Wisconsin, and race-baiter Gov. George Wallace of Alabama."The Newsweek team explicitly tied these men to the people who posted damaging tidbits from Reverend Wright sermons on YouTube and the spreaders of Obama's leaked remarks on the Huffington Post about bitter people clinging to guns and religion. They began by lamenting the injustice that a black man, long so oppressed, could be accused of elitism:

What is just weird is this: how can it be that a black man running for president is accused of being too elitist? For the first century of the nation's existence, blacks were kept in chains. For the next century, they were sent to the back of the bus and kept away from whites-only lunch counters and restrooms throughout the South – much less allowed to join the white elite in their schools and clubs and prestigious institutions. Then, starting in the 1960s, American society began to make a concerted effort to open up those doors. Barack Obama is not so much the beneficiary of that effort as the proof that blacks can make it on their own, if given the chance. He was, despite a modest upbringing, elected editor of the Harvard Law Review, a position at the very tip of the meritocratic ziggurat.Yet to pockets of America, he still seems to be the "other." He seems a little strange, exotic; those cracked e-mails whispering about his middle name (Hussein) and declaring, fictitiously, that he is a Muslim who insisted on being sworn into office on the Qur'an rather than the Bible, keep buzzing around the Internet. To some, his manner is haughty; he is a bit of an egghead, one of those pointy-headed intellectuals whom George W. Bush liked to ridicule as a Deke brother at Yale and even later as president of the United States (and, long before him, demagogues like the anti-Semitic right-wing radio priest of the 1940s, Father Charles Coughlin; Red-baiter Sen. Joe McCarthy of Wisconsin, and race-baiter Gov. George Wallace of Alabama).

It’s bad enough that liberal Newsweek reporters would peck at their keyboards filled with the arrogance that their politicians are the smartest ones, and that mocking them for "elitism" is the defense of dumber people who don’t like eggheads. But Obama’s opponents don’t just hate eggheads, but they seem to be comparable to people who hate Jews (Coughlin) hate blacks (Wallace), and hate commies (McCarthy). Conservatives would only accept hating the commies, as opposed to Newsweek. If if were up to them and their deep imbibing of detente, the Cold War would still be going, and they'd still be writing giddy tributes to Soviet dictators who secretly love jazz.It’s also pathetic that Newsweek liberals would keep using the Internet as a boogeyman, as if the left doesn't have any McCain-smearing sites. The same narrative can be constructed for McCain, that it keeps "buzzing around the Internet" that he’s a "senile warmonger," a Muslim-hating racist, and his wife is "a thieving drug addict." How can they profess loathing that Obama would be dragged down by "guilt by association" to Reverend Wright and then pull the same negative-ad gambit against conservatives in their "news" copy? Directly after the Coughlin-McCarthy-Wallace sentence came this passage:

Demagoguing, even in the subtle ways enabled by new media, can have an impact over time. In the NEWSWEEK Poll, 13 percent reported that Obama is Muslim. NEWSWEEK reporters on the campaign trail could hear the wariness, even fearfulness, of voters as they spoke about Obama. Secretly taped by a "citizen journalist," then reported online, Obama's remarks to San Francisco fund-raisers—that some voters in economically depressed towns "cling" to religion and guns out of "bitterness"—did not sit well, nor did the endlessly replayed YouTube videos of Obama's former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., ranting against America.

Note how they sneer at a "citizen journalist," as if real journalists don't expose Barack Obama's Harvard-snobbish moments. They sloppily mix Obama Internet whispers with things he actually said and ministers he actually lavished with donations. Then they lament how voters are growing wary of their hero:

Richard Vallejo, 65, of Bristol, Pa., a typical working-class town, has voted Democratic all his life. But of Obama, Vallejo says: "He's prejudiced against white people. I'm in a small town and if I own a gun, it's not because I'm bitter. It is because of the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms." In Indiana, the next stop on the primary trail on May 6, Brenda Spreitzer, 42, told a NEWSWEEK reporter at a Clinton rally: "I think Barack's viewpoints and his past is too flamboyant. It's more radical than I want to go … I'm just not comfortable," she said, adding that she is concerned about Obama's practice of generally not wearing an American flag pin. (None of the candidates wear flag pins.)

The whining reaches fever pitch as the Newsweek-lings imagine how Obama might be headed for the pantheon of Misunderstood Democratic Losers:

The Republican Party has had a field day over the past half-century making fun of Democrats who are "effete" -- first Adlai Stevenson, a cultivated brainiac who lost twice to Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s; then Michael Dukakis, a former professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government who made the mistake of being ludicrously photographed in a tank helmet and allowed himself to be cornered as somehow soft on crime (read: black crime); then John Kerry, a Yale man who seemed to enjoy windsurfing in Nantucket a little too much (forget that he was decorated for valor in Vietnam). Now there is Obama, a man who seems to want to think before he speaks and lacks Hillary Clinton's enthusiasm for hoisting a beer glass or throwing back shots of Crown Royal Canadian whisky for the ever-present cameramen.

That last sentence really reveals their Obama-loving desperation. Their candidate is being punished because he "seems to want to think before he speaks." That's not only a desperate airball-shot against every Obama opponent from Limbaugh to McCain to Hillary. It's a funny line in the same article where it's lamented that some uncooperative so-called journalist exposed him for saying bitter people cling to guns and religion and immigrant-bashing.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis