Friday, December 11, 2009

Destroying the movement you rode in on

Back in the early Democratic presidential primary days of 2008 John Edwards and Barack Obama were fighting it out for the liberal, anti-Hillary vote. Arguably one of the things that helped Obama push Edwards aside was the right wing narrative that Edwards was some kind of effeminate "Breck girl." Ann Coulter called him a "faggot" at a CPAC dinner, and a story planted in Politico alleged Edwards was getting $400 haircuts.

As Glenn Greenwald makes clear in his book "Great American Hypocrites," feminizing of political opponents has been the Republican electoral method ever since about 1980. Successive Democratic presidential candidates have been destroyed in this way, including Walter Mondale, Mike Dukakis, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry and even Barack Obama. In Clinton's case it didn't work too well because, ironically, of his philandering ways.

In his book Greenwald describes how the haircut story played out after the Politico story, leading to a pilfered video of Edwards preparing for an on-camera interview primping his hair. The video, seen more than a million times on Youtube, was overdubbed with the song "I feel pretty."

The $400 haircut story made its way through the right wing Drudge-o-sphere and rather quickly jumped to the traditional media. But what was the genesis of the story? Politico didn't say, and Greenwald only implies the story came from right wing operatives.

But last month we learned from Obama campaign manager David Plouffe's new book that his campaign was responsible for the planting of the $400 haircut story. Ben Smith at Politico confirmed they were his source.

I'm not sure how Greenwald reacted to the news, since he hasn't written about it yet. But my guess is he wouldn't be surprised, given how much the Obama administration has become like the Bush administration over the past 10 months. Still it is sad to read of the self-defeating tactics used by Democrats to attain power. Obama may have beaten Edwards partially because of his "feminizing" smear, but he set back the progressive cause and hurt not just the his party but the entire progressive movement by affirming, through their use, right wing smear tactics.

You'd think with pundits like Maureen Dowd trying to do the same to Obama by calling him "Obambi" he would have been sensitive to using such tactics. Where is the change when the putative leader of a movement employs tactics and narratives successfully used against politicians of his own party - including himself! - for decades against someone from his own party?

This isn't the first time Obama has acted like a Republican. His Education Secretary is running around the country with Newt Gingrich and Al Sharpton (?!) promoting the failed experiment of Charter schools and the unfair and ineffective policy of teacher merit pay. His health care reform refused to confront health care insurers and drug companies. His Afghanistan policy caved to the War industry. He has continued to defend war criminals and illegal spying on US citizens. Now we find out he used right wing smear tactics to help get himself elected. Pundits can say what they want about Obama, but one thing he hasn't brought is real change.

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