While it does betray a certain intellectual bankruptcy, the mainstream conservative fixation on Wright is so strong because Wright offended against Americanism, which is far more serious to this sort than anything to do with race one way or another. Incidentally, this is also why I think the charges of “race-baiting” in ads being played in local and House elections are overblown–the message is not to associate local Democrats with a black man as such, but rather to associate them with the “anti-American” sentiments of Obama’s former pastor. (But remember, when Democrats complain that their opponents impugn their patriotism, they are supposedly hallucinating.) Most of the same people who now obsess about Obama’s associations used to give Obama enormous praise because he said the sorts of nice, saccharine, inoffensive things about American goodness that they find most agreeable, but Wright (and Obama’s refusal to repudiate him entirely) changed all of that by saying critical things about America, added together with his loopy conspiracy theories, and they have chosen to identify Obama with these sentiments, rather than the ones he actually expresses on a regular basis.
Of course, the correct conclusion to take away from Obama’s campaign is that he is entirely too boosterish when it comes to talking about America’s role in the world. Naturally, mainstream conservatives feel obliged to portray him as a new McGovern, even though coming home is the furthest thing from Obama’s intention with respect to American deployments around the world. They likewise want to insist that he is a bad Americanist, when he basically shares the same triumphalist vision and progressive nationalist interpretation of American history that they have. They wish to portray him as someone who is “pessimistic” about America (because he acknowledges that there are problems and failures), when he is the most irrepressibly optimistic candidate of the last fifty years, and I don’t say that as a compliment. They have to keep emphasising how far away from them, the mainstream conservatives, he is supposed to be, because otherwise people would begin to notice all of the assumptions that they share with him, which would either make him more viable or reveal them to be further to the left than they would want to acknowledge.
P.S. It will be an interesting test of the down-ticket effects of an Obama nomination if Childers, who held the plurality of the vote before the run-off, ends up losing in the wake of this ad. You also have to marvel at the phoniness of the suburbanite Greg Davis posing with the farmer by his tractor, when Childers is the overwhelming favourite of the rural and small town voters. Of course, because Childers’ base is exactly the kind of people likely to be insulted by Obama’s San Francisco remarks the ad may be unusually effective. We shall see.