America is in the midst of a 21st-century witch hunt. A loose-knit network of right-wing ideological strategists, Republican Party operatives and media demagogues generate the odious smears. Their goal is to stymie the Obama administration’s policy initiatives, capture Congress in November and unseat President Barack Obama in 2012. This propagandizing echoes the scapegoating of liberals, union and community organizers, peace activists, gay people, Jews and people of color during the anti-communist witch-hunts of the McCarthy era.
Anti-Obama rhetoric also mimics 1960s slurs dubbing Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. a dupe of a communist conspiracy – claims circulated by groups like the ultra-conservative John Birch Society, the white supremacist “Citizens’ Councils” and the Ku Klux Klan. Billboards and flyers with this revelation appeared across the South, and postcards were distributed nationwide.
The underlying message is that liberals are either tools or agents of the plot to build collectivism and global governance. Such claims, once used to label President Franklin D. Roosevelt a fascist, and have resurfaced against Obama, who is tagged as Hitler and Stalin. Such sloganeering is a classic trope that distorts a complex idea into a short metaphor full of rich cultural or political baggage.
Into this guilt-by-association cesspool swims Aaron Klein, who fancies himself a shark of an investigative journalist but is really just another bottom-feeder. Klein, a senior staff reporter for the hard-right conspiracist World Net Daily, worked with Internet crank Brenda J. Elliott (therealbarackobama.wordpress.com) to write the new book The Manchurian President: Barack Obama’s Ties to Communists, Socialists and other Anti-American Extremists.
Similarly gawdy anti-Obama books include: Newt Gingrich’s To Save America: Stopping Obama’s Secular-Socialist Machine, Sean Hannity’s Conservative Victory: Defeating Obama’s Radical Agenda and Brad O’Leary’s The Audacity of Deceit: Barack Obama’s War on American Values. Slightly more histrionic are: Jerome R. Corsi’s The Obama Nation: Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality, and Floyd Brown and Lee Troxler’s Obama Unmasked: Did Slick Hollywood Handlers Create the Perfect Candidate?
According to The Manchurian President, Obama was groomed for office by a nest of socialists, communists and other dangerous radicals based in Hyde Park, the South Side neighborhood that includes the University of Chicago.
Klein writes, “[Brenda Elliot and I] began to realize the scope of Obama’s radical associates and mentors … We realized we were piecing together an intricate puzzle that revealed a man with an agenda far more radical and dangerous than he portrays – a politician backed by groups and individuals who seek to drastically alter the U.S. system or destroy it altogether.”
The book identifies Marilyn Katz, a well-known anti-war activist and public-relations consultant, as part of Obama’s Chicago cabal. The writers spend “a lot of time mapping” an alleged subversive network of Obama operatives, Katz says.
The authors portray Obama “as some kind of robotic guy run by a nest of vipers,” says Katz. Obama “is a moderate politically – a gatherer, not a splitter. He excels in everything he does. They can’t attack him directly based on his race or his credentials,” so they map out “‘who-knows-who?’”
Anti-Obama smears utilize guilt-by-association, innuendo and hype. The Manchurian President also fingers labor organizer and long-time leftist activist Carl Davidson as one of Obama’s co-conspirators. Davidson founded the Chicago chapter of the New Party in the 1990s, which Klein and Elliot call a “self-described … ‘socialist democratic’ organization.”
The text describing the New Party’s “socialist democratic” leaning cites a USA Today article, but the footnote trails to a partisan blog – RedState.com, which proclaims USA Today reported on November 16, 1992, that the New Party was “self-described [as] ‘socialist democratic.’” USA Today actually reported “the New Party [was] a self-described ‘social democratic’ organization based on the idea of local autonomy and a combination of campaign work with non-electoral cultural and educational activities.”
The Manchurian President breathlessly reports that in “an interview conducted by Aaron Klein … Davidson strongly suggests Obama was an actual member” of the New Party. Davidson, however, says he told Klein that “Obama was never seriously a member of the New Party, I never saw him sign a membership form,” and there is no record that he did. “It’s just a crock.”
“We helped him out on his campaign for state senate in 1996, and later he thanked us. That was it. The whole idea of Obama as our Manchurian Candidate is ludicrous,” says Davidson.
A conspiracy that never dies
The political right has long built elaborate conspiracy theories about leftist subversion.
In the early 1950s, John Beaty’s The Iron Curtain Over America blamed the international communist conspiracy on a Jewish plot. After the Vietnam war, a story surfaced that politicians and high-ranking military officials, in league with the CIA, never really wanted victory. In other words, the treacherous liberal elite stabbed our boys in the back. Their goal: Create enough chaos and internal dissent within the United States to impose martial law and round up patriotic conservative Americans – and their guns. The hard-right, anti-communist John Birch Society spread this conspiracy theory across America – a narrative that endures to this day in right-wing media.
Similar fictions featuring Obama resurfaced in early July, reports sociologist Jerry Lembcke. “I was surprised it has taken this long with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for these right-wing storylines to bubble to the surface. Now we are right back into this ‘who lost the war?’ culture that the nation experienced after the war in Vietnam.”
Lembcke has been tracing the right-wing myth of liberal treachery for more than a decade in a series of books. In The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam, Lembcke reported that stories about GIs being spit on as they returned from service in Vietnam were fabricated to explain that Vietnam had not been a military loss, but a betrayal by liberal elites and radical anti-war activists. In CNN’s Tailwind Tale: Inside Vietnam’s Last Great Myth, Lembcke traced a yarn that the U.S. government had murdered AWOL GI’s hiding in North Vietnam. Lembcke’s new book, Hanoi Jane: War, Sex, and Fantasies of Betrayal, explores the scapegoating of Jane Fonda that emerged years after her 1972 visit to North Vietnam on an anti-war mission.
“The power of a political trope,” he says, “works for and on people who are unaware of where it comes from. Very few Americans will connect these claims about Obama and socialism to the old JBS [John Birch Society] betrayal theory and right-wing conspiracism [about Vietnam].”
Populism, demonization and scapegoating combine to generate witch hunts. In the ’60s, New York Times reporter Cabell Phillips noted that in the right-wing conspiracy storyline, “liberalism is equated with socialism and socialism with communism.” Thus it was necessary to oppose “most welfare legislation, [and] many programs for international cooperation such as foreign aid. … Such activities are depicted as playing into the hands of the Communists, and sometimes stemming from Communist subversion.”
Hard times yield a hard right. Indeed, the Republicans appear set to adopt the liberal treachery motif as a campaign tool in the upcoming election.
Progressives must energetically defend Obama against pathological smears and racist attacks – while we kick his butt to live up to his campaign promises.