The purpose of the Big Lie is to create a negative perception of one’s political opponent. It causes the victim to waste time on non-issues; and it creates fear, uncertainty, anxiety, and anger against the victim. It works: fearful, angry voters don’t often think rationally. However, Big Lies didn’t prevent Barack Obama from getting elected, so his opposition got better organized and resumed the attacks. Previously, I commented on two continuously repeated Big Lies: Obama is a Muslim; Obama is a socialist. Here are two more.
Big Lie Number 3: Barack Obama is not a natural-born citizen of the United States. This is easily the funniest of all the Big Lies, and proponents of this absurdity are known as “Birthers.” Sadly, it’s also the most effective tool of the current “lunatic fringe” because many of the “Birthers” are educated people whom you expect to know better. (Remember: the “lunatic fringe” is what Theodore Roosevelt called plutocrats within his Republican Party who would rather let the whole economic system collapse instead of fixing any of the flaws within capitalism.)
Hawaii was once only a possession of the United States, and it most assuredly is not contiguous to the oldest 48 states. However, it and Alaska became states in 1959. According to the state of Hawaii and also a newspaper announcement, Barack Obama was born there on August 4, 1961.
The “Birthers,” who include many TEA Partiers, apparently don’t trust Hawaii’s records; but they haven’t challenged Hawaii’s birth records on anyone else. They simply can’t accept this particular person as their president.
It may be that they just can’t handle the idea that anyone like Obama born in Hawaii could possibly be a loyal American. Hawaii is an exotic state in the Pacific consisting of Native Hawaiians, Japanese-Americans, mixed bloods and you name it. Now Hawaii has produced a president who descended from a black Kenyan father and white Kansan mother. This is probably too traumatic for any “Birther” to ever accept.
Big Lie Number 4: Barack Obama is a terrorist. If not personally a terrorist, he at least “pals around with terrorists,” as the embarrassingly benighted Sarah Palin claimed during the 2008 campaign. This Big Lie stems from Mr. Obama’s associations with two individuals: Bill Ayers, formerly of the radical Weatherman Underground in 1970’s – long before Obama ever knew him; and Reverend Jeremiah Wright, who gave two controversial sermons that were critical of the U. S. – both took place while Obama was a member of his church and may or may not have been in attendance at the time.
Bill Ayers is presently a well-respected educator and a Distinguished Professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. His connection with Barack Obama was that they, for 3 years, were both board members of the Woods Fund of Chicago, an anti-poverty foundation. Obama was also president of the board of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, which Ayers help found and which provided grants to schools. Other than that, no one has found they had a close, personal friendship.
In qualified defense of the Big Liars, the Republicans may sincerely believe that Obama’s objection to Bush-Cheney’s invasion of Iraq was influenced by Ayers’ earlier opposition to the Vietnam War. This would make sense to the radical-reactionary Republicans. Don’t forget, Republicans don’t like anyone who objected to the Vietnam War – that was one of the many reasons they despised Bill Clinton and tried to destroy his presidency. Likewise, they are unlikely to work willingly with anyone who opposed the Iraq invasion.
The Big Lie Technique has been the life-blood of the Republican Party since the end of World War II. “Guilt by association” was the most common tactic, and it was adapted in the U. S. by Richard Nixon to destroy his opposition. You know this method best as “McCarthyism” because of Sen. Joe McCarthy’s infamous communist witch-hunt in the early 1950’s. Ms. Palin’s assertion that Obama “pals around with terrorists” is just another variation on that old theme: Anybody who knows Bill Ayers must be a terrorist. The Big Lie has worked for them more often than not, so don’t expect the ever increasingly extremist Republican Party to change.
As for Reverend Wright, Mr. Obama belonged to his church for two decades – from 1988 to 2008, when the controversy over those two past sermons led Obama to resign his membership. The church was the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. You may recall that one of the Big Lies about Obama is that he is a Muslim; so you may wonder why he was baptized, married, and had his children baptized in a Church of Christ. Big Lies don’t have to make sense or be consistent – they just have to be BIG.
The correct question is whether Mr. Obama’s association with Ayers or Wright will influence his administration. Neither one of them has been appointed to any position, official or unofficial; nor, as far as I know, has President Obama had any contact with them in any way; nor has anyone connected to Ayers or Wright been appointed to any executive agency. Do you know otherwise?
Knowing the kind of people a presidential candidate associates with and whom he intends to place into positions of responsibility is, of course, important. George W. Bush asked Dick Cheney to help him pick a vice-presidential running mate, and Cheney picked himself. When Cheney was in the House of Representatives, it was he who wrote the minority report on the Iran-Contra Affair that objected to Congress’s constitutional oversight of the executive branch. Mr. Cheney did not accept the Constitution’s system of checks and balances and favored a unitary chief executive – a virtual dictator.
Also, Cheney was connected to the neoconservative group called the Project for a New American Century, which advocated a U. S. invasion of Iraq in 1998 and favored unilateral U. S. military domination. In 2000, not enough voters in key states cared about this. Bush ended up appointing numerous neocons to positions of major importance: Donald Rumsfeld, Sec. of Defense; Paul Wolfowitz, U.S. Deputy Sec. of Defense; John Bolton, United Nations Ambassador; and many more.
Their wreckage is among the many crises that President Obama must continue to deal with. The United States needs him to succeed in the Iraq-Afghanistan Bush-Cheney wars and in creating jobs to end the Great Recession. It won’t be easy or quick. Unfortunately, a large number of potential voters and almost all in the Party of Hell No, which is mostly responsible for these messes, hope to stop him.
by David Offutt
A version of this essay was published September 15, 2010, in the El Dorado News-Times as a letter to the editor.