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The use of smears is dangerous, especially for conservatives

Guilt by Association

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The recent attacks on Barack Obama, by both Republican pundits and even to a degree by a desperate Hillary Clinton, represent everything that's wrong with American politics. From insisting on referring to Obama by his unfortunate middle name — Hussein — to attempts to link the Illinois senator to Louis Farrakhan or worse, the most vicious attacks against the possible Democratic presidential nominee do not target his policies — but his person.

If Obama were a practicing Muslim, had a long-standing relationship with the Nation of Islam, or showed sympathy toward America's enemies, then such issues would be fair game. It is only normal that Americans would expect their president to reflect their values, not to mention their interests.

But when radio host Bill Cunningham repeats the name "Barack Hussein Obama" at a John McCain rally, Sean Hannity questions Obama's relationship with preacher and Farrakhan admirer Jeremiah Wright, Neal Boortz wonders aloud — repeatedly — why a lone Obama staffer somewhere has a picture of Che Guevara in his office, such smears don't do conservatives, or the political process, any favors.

John McCain was recently endorsed by televangelist John Hagee, who has called the Catholic Church "the great whore" and considers McCain's willingness to bomb Iran a good way to hasten Armageddon — for the Bible tells him so. Hagee's Bible also speaks to countless Americans who share his views, watch his television ministry on over 160 stations nationwide, and, if I had to guess, vote Republican. Should McCain denounce Hagee's endorsement? No one could seriously believe McCain shares Hagee's views, but why anger voters who do by denouncing the televangelist? McCain needs as many votes as he can get. By the same token, rightly or wrongly, a good many black Americans consider Farrakhan a hero, and Obama would be politically foolish to denounce him unless pressured to do so.

The people who fill the pulpits of Hagee's megachurch or watch his television program are no different in spirit than the scores of black Americans who attended or supported Farrakhan's Million Man March in 1995. Both subscribe to certain views, even those promoted by questionable leaders, not because they are fanatical or wicked, but because they come from backgrounds that naturally make a certain brand of politics attractive.

As a white Southerner with my own brand of "controversial" politics, I personally find little benefit in either religious fundamentalism or black nationalism. But perhaps fundamentalists and Farrakhanites feel the same way about what I believe? So what? Out in the real America where most of us work and live, average and not-so-average folks are guilty of harboring all sorts of opinions that would never pass muster on CNN or in The New York Times. Christian fundamentalists, black nationalists, and Southerners like myself could be disqualified and dismissed immediately if judged exclusively by the standards of the mainstream media.

Such is the diversity of identities that make up the patchwork of American life. I don't think an evangelical politician, like Mike Huckabee for example, could have grown up in the United States and not have been touched by the fundamentalist Right, as represented by Hagee and others. But I don't believe such views represent the true character of Huckabee. As a politically active black man, I don't think it's possible that Obama could have grown up in the United States without being touched by the far-left or black nationalists like Farrakhan, yet I don't believe questionable links or youthful indiscretions represent the true character of Obama.

David Duke is rightly associated with the Ku Klux Klan because he has promoted similar racial views for his entire political life. Men like U.S. Senator Robert Byrd, a former Klansman, or Barack Obama, who might have befriended black racists, or, dare I say, the late Strom Thurmond cannot and should not be defined by beliefs in their distant past or temporary allegiances that have little to do with their political lives when viewed as a whole.

The use of such smear tactics is also damaging to free speech, especially for conservatives. For every Obama/Muslim smear the Right can muster, there's a Republican or conservative link to "racism" (just ask any Confederate flag supporter) or religious fanaticism (just ask any Southern Baptist) that can take down even the best of men. As a liberal Republican, not even McCain will be safe from Democratic hit men who, for all we know, might be preparing to smear the senator this moment and, by association, the Republican Party over Hagee's endorsement of McCain.

Obama has plenty of policies that would be bad for America, and his enemies on the Right would do well to begin attacking his ideas instead of continuing a smear policy that makes little sense, serves little purpose, and might very well be turned on them in the near future — with a vengeance.

Catch Southern Avenger commentaries every Tuesday and Friday at 7:50 a.m. on the "Morning Buzz with Richard Todd" on 1250 AM WTMA.

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