Neil Gillies, an Obama supporter who runs a local environmental nonprofit group, glumly recounted the gibes that his wife, a schoolteacher, hears regularly from her students. “They’re convinced [Obama] is a Muslim, a terrorist, a guy who’s coming to take away their guns,” Gillies said. “It’s just sad.”
I tend to agree, but I find it sad mostly because of what it says about the deplorable ignorance of vast numbers of voters and the inevitability of such ignorance in a mass democracy. Why we should want to export this kind of government to other parts of the world has never been clear to me, when it isn’t clear that it contributes to either good government or healthy politics in this country. Democracy is identitarian and necessarily so. Democracy is dangerous to liberty for several reasons, but one reason is that it contributes to collectivist attitudes and what Kuehnelt-Leddihn called “nostrism,” one form of which is nationalism.
No one who has been paying attention for more than an hour to this campaign could conclude that Obama is a Muslim, but that’s just the problem: millions and tens of millions of voters haven’t paid and won’t pay that much attention until later this year, and by then these memes will have spread far and wide through chain e-mails and word of mouth, by which time it will be too late and attitudes will have become settled. One of the key things about memes is that they do not need to be true to be reproduced; they need only be memorable or notable. This is one of the reasons why I have never understood the enthusiasm of Obama boosters to stress his background and biography as selling points or talk about how enthusiastically Muslims around the world will respond to his election. You begin to see how this sort of thing backfires on Obama when McCain or his supporters can say, accurately if rather demagogically, that Hamas wants Obama to win–there’s some enthusiasm from overseas that Obama could do without. This is why there should never have been an emphasis on whether or how many foreign nations would cheer an Obama win–there may be nations whose endorsement that might be politically damaging that you don’t want, but once you go down the road of touting popularity abroad you take on the undesirable supporters with the rest. This sort of argument reinforces the impression, cultivated by Obama’s enemies, that he and his associates are lacking in their embrace of Americanism. To be labeled “vaguely French” was part of what brought down Kerry, and yet for reasons I will never understand Obama and his backers have made Obama’s foreign experiences and connections a centerpiece of his public persona.
You could not have concocted a more insidious anti-Obama campaign than what many of his supporters (as well as the candidate and campaign) have managed to do in constantly talking up all the foreign places he lived, his relatives in Kenya, and on and on. From a certain perspective, Obama’s background and biography must seem to be undeniable political assets, but slowly it is beginning to dawn on his boosters that a great many, probably most, Americans do not share that perspective. Furthermore, the emphasis on Obama’s background and biography has always meant that the ’08 election would become a culture clash, and it is one that I suspect the Democrats still cannot win.