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Dan Riehl of Riehl World View, whom I directed some criticism at the other night over the New Yorker cover faux-controversy, writes in.

Here’s from my original post:

More Politics

Hence, the irony of the cover art. (The right’s favorite punchline about the cover seems to be, “all humor has it’s basis in reality” [sic]. To which I’d ask: what part has the basis in reality? The terrorist part or the terrorist part?)

Here is the passage I quoted from Dan in fuller context:

“Oh, and lest someone else forget to point it out … all humor has its basis in reality. Evidently the article doesn’t, as it suggests the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy has been painting Obama to fit the cover. Since when has Hillary been considered part of that?”

Here is Dan (over e-mail):

I don’t believe Obama is a “terrorist.” If you read the reality portion of my post, it’s in the graph with Hillary. In other words, yes, some have tried to paint Obama as a Muslim, potentially even a terrorist sympathizer – making the satire on mark. But much of that came from Hillary and Co. not the right. Though I’d expect it in the Fall when it matters. Hopefully a careful reading will make that more clear, though perhaps not. Best — Dan

You can determine for yourself whether I mischaracterized Dan’s original argument, but I’m actually very much in agreement with the argument as he clarified it in his e-mail. An awful lot of the most vicious anti-Obama smears have in fact come from the disillusioned left. Probably not “most of” — but as Dan says, “much of”.

Certainly, the right is not without blame. Fox News was responsible for the madrassa smear, the “terrorist fist jab”, and the original and widely-distributed Muslim smear e-mail has been traced back to a RedState poster.

Still, there is no site more virulently and violently anti-Obama than the ostensibly left-leaning No Quarter, which bore responsibility for spreading the “whitey” smear” and on a daily basis accuses Obama of things ranging from faking his birth certificate to encouraging pedophiles through his “Kids for Obama” website.

Moreover, there is reason to believe that the “whitey” smear may have been propagated by pro-Clinton forces that went beyond Johnson. This is from a post I drafted about a month ago and never went live with, but which seems topical now.

There are no people who have to have seen the Michelle Obama “whitey” tape.

Furthermore, there are no people who claim to have spoken with anybody who has seen the Michelle Obama “whitey” tape.

This is because the tape does not exist.

There are three people who claim to have spoken with people who have spoken with people who have seen the tape. Those people are Larry C. Johnson, Bob Beckel, and Roger Stone.

What do these people have in common?

Larry C. Johnson is a Clinton — let’s call him a Clinton enthusiast.

Bob Beckel is a Democratic strategist.

So we have two Democrats. The oddball was always Roger Stone, who is a Republican dirty tricks maestro.

Except that today, in a video posted at Barack Obama’s smear-fighting website, we see that Beckel told Sean Hannity that his source was someone in the Clinton campaign:

Because I have heard this from people who are not mid-level in the Clinton campaign, not at the lower level — I’ve heard this from people who have a lot of credibility, to me, as serious people.

I am not suggesting that this was any sort of organized effort on the Clinton campaign’s behalf. For one thing, many of the people involved may be capable of lying. For another, part of the Clinton campaign’s problem was a lack of coordination, so we would probably be talking more a lone wolf sort of scenario where something went off and did something stupid without approval. But it does seem plausible to me that someone with some measure of authority in the campaign was inventing, and disseminating, these rumors.

If you want to get into circumstantial evidence, the timing of the rumors, coming at the very end of the primary process when Clinton’s prospects for the nomination were slim and her campaign was desperate, would certainly seem to be more fortuitous for Clinton than the for the GOP. Her main objective at that point was to find some way to freeze the superdelegates and extend her clock, and this is the sort of thing that might have done it.

It would also make sense in terms of the degrees of separation involved. Nobody on the Clinton campaign can claim to have had access to the tape, because then the question would be why weren’t they using it. But they can claim to have spoken with people who have access to the tape, and claim that those people were Republicans who were waiting to use it as an October Surprise. Why a Republican who was in possession of the tape would tell a high-level operative in the Clinton campaign about it, I don’t know — this would certainly seem to ruin the ‘surprise’ element — but it provides some cover for plausible deniability.

Finally, the Clinton campaign was accused of this precise kind of behavior before — not spreading a rumor, but spreading a rumor about a rumor — back in November through the vehicle of Bob Novak.

I might also add that county chairs in the Clinton campaign were caught distributing the Muslim smear e-mail.

Here, I suppose, is the thing. There are all sorts of reasons to be opposed to Barack Obama’s candidacy. Most of them are perfectly legitimate — you think he’ll raise your taxes, you want to keep in the troops in Iraq, you think he’s too young and inexperienced to handle a crisis, etc. A small minority of them aren’t as legitimate: you don’t like black people. You think he’s part of a Muslim sleeper cell.

If you take your typical Republican, they’ll have lots of these legitimate reasons for opposing Obama’s candidacy. They might have some illegitimate ones too, but the basic disagreements with the Democrats on economic and foreign policy would suffice to preclude from voting for Obama. That doesn’t mean there might not be some strategic benefit to their spreading smears about Obama (see Dan’s warning about expecting such things in the fall), but of the Republicans who oppose Obama, I’d assume that relatively few of them do so for such reasons.

On the other hand, if you’re a Democrat, that takes a whole lot of the legitimate reasons for opposing Obama off the table — particularly as his views were in alignment with those of his leading opponent, Hillary Clinton, on about 98 percent of issues. So most of the criticisms necessarily go to character, some of which are reasonable enough (“he’s too arrogant”) and some of which are not (“he’s a black dude”).

Put differently, if you oppose Obama, it becomes much more likely that you do so for reasons related to his race, or because you believe one of the smears about his character, if we also learn that you’re a Democrat. Of course, there are many fewer Democrats who oppose Obama than Republicans. But I would guess that racism, hatred and stupidity are pretty evenly divided across the political spectrum.

Nate Silver is the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.

Filed under Barack Obama 487 posts, Controversy 49

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