by Todd Beeton, Thu Feb 21, 2008 at 05:09:02 AM EST
As all are no doubt aware by now, on Tuesday, Michelle Obama twice used what I think to any objective observer was a politically unwise choice of words to describe her pride in her country at the precipice of what may turn out to be her husband's ascension to the Democratic nomination for president. Depending on what media outlet you were watching or which right-wing gasbag you were listening to bash her, what Obama said was either this:
"For the first time in my adult life I'm really proud of my country"
"For the first time in my adult life I'm proud of my country"
Why would she say something that so clearly would send anti-American dog whistle messages to those who, as Pat Buchanan put it, are "wired like" him and would be particularly pre-disposed to hearing that sentiment from a liberal, I have no idea. For me it brought back memories of the politically tin eared Teresa Heinz Kerry who really turned out to be a liability to John Kerry in 2004, but what was quite amazing (not to mention depressing) was that as the story played out on Tuesday, the conservative attacks on Obama's words weren't nearly as ridiculous as the liberal defense of them turned out to be. Obama fans rallied to Michelle's defense, essentially insisting that a. Obama's words were perfectly fine because she said the word "really" between "life" and "proud" and b. when confronted with videotape of her saying it without the "really," many insisted that MSNBC had edited the footage to remove it, because that word made all the difference, you see, and considering the media is almost as evil as Hillary Clinton, what other conclusion could one draw!? A really poorly written diary saying as much sky-rocketed to the top of the dailyKos Rec list until its author finally pulled the delusional piece of crap from the site altogether.
In reality, it turned out that Michelle Obama had spoken both variations at two different events on the same day, something that seemed fairly obvious to me when I saw the video of her saying it without the "really" (you can tell if video has been edited -- it clearly hadn't been) and heard MSNBC repeatedly report that Obama had used the words in multiple speeches. You can see two sets of comments side by side in the video below (h/t TPM):
Now some would at this point probably want to interject that there is also video where the "really" is garbled, clear evidence of editing by the evil media, which I think is silly because you can actually still hear what she said even in that version, but again this presumes that the "really" makes her comments any better, which it doesn't. Now, ultimately, Michelle Obama finally addressed what had become a pretty full-blown controversy at an appearance in Rhode Island yesterday, and I think she did it in a fairly effective way, not apologizing but just explaining what she meant, watch it below:
The reason I think it works is that, as Glenn Greenwald puts it, she was...
...able to render these attacks impotent, even cause them to backfire, because they and their propagators will appear to be so ugly and small and irrelevant in light of the type of candidate he is, the rhetoric he produces, the vision to which he aspires.
But there are a couple of concerns. First is the delusional nature of the defense of the comments by Obama supporters, who claimed not only that Obama didn't mean what the right was saying she meant but also that the "really" did make all the difference. First of all, since when does it really matter what she meant? A political gaffe need only exist in the eyes of the beholder and their ability to communicate their version of what the speaker meant. Secondly, the insistence that the addition of "really" in the comments made any difference at all and that the media surely had edited her comments to make it sound even worse really points to the problematic nature of some of the support Obama enjoys: many of his supporters believe the Obamas can do no wrong, period; imagine if such acrobatics had been performed to justify comments made by Bill Clinton this cycle? Never would have happened. The rush to judgment that results in anti-Clinton derangement is just as potentially dangerous as that which results from the pro-Obama derangement. I mean, really, so many of Obama's online supporters have alighted from the reality-based world and insist on defending Obama to any attack, regardless of the soundness of the argument but if he is the nominee, we're going to need to defend him against attacks in strong and logically sound ways and also hold him accountable when he screws up; this is why the blogosphere came into being, not to rubber stamp anything and everything a candidate says. If his legions of supporters are going to continue the blind allegiance, it's going to be really unhelpful in the fight ahead.
Secondly is the issue of whether the Obama campaign is responding swiftly enough to these attacks, or, as Jonathan Martin puts it, whether he is
...sufficiently aware of the danger that exists from the conservative Freak Show that did as much to beat John Kerry as George W. Bush did in 2004.
Now, as I said before, while Michelle's explanation of her remarks could have come sooner, I do think she effectively dealt with it, but what of the latest comments by Bill O'Reilly? From Media Matters:
"I don't want to go on a lynching party against Michelle Obama unless there's evidence, hard facts, that say this is how the woman really feels"
Umm, what? As Keith rightly pointed out yesterday, and he still has his job?! I agree with Greg Sargent:
I mean, O'Reilly used the word lynching when talking about Michelle. Here you have a perfect opening for Michelle or a designated surrogate to deliver a toughly-worded -- and simultaneously high-minded -- response that nails O'Reilly directly between the eyes for his ugliness and pillories his wingnut colleagues for their phony piety and counterfeit patriotism. Remember how effectively Elizabeth Edwards made hash of Ann Coulter when she called John a "faggot"?
The Obamas obviously have the rhetorical dexterity to do something like this and more. If they did, it would go a long way towards taking the steam out of questions being raised by their rivals as to whether they have what it takes to survive a general election. Seems like a missed opportunity."
Seems to me that this was the first of what could be many tests of the effectiveness of both the Obama campaign and the blogosphere to respond to attacks on his campaign and I have to say I'm not really overflowing with confidence by either's performance.