Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Barack Obama as Straw Man, Part One

Over the next week, before the election, I will be writing about the phenomena of Barack Obama as “Straw Man”. People across the country witnessed the inexcusable behavior of many McCain/Palin supporters at rallies throughout October. I was appalled to see the level of demonization and “otherizing” of Barack Obama, as he was called a “terrorist,” a “Muslim,” an “Arab,” a “socialist,” and a turncoat. Gov. Palin herself accused Obama of “palling around with terrorists” and McCain constantly asked about the “real Barack Obama.”

I say Obama is being demonized and otherized in all seriousness. The accusations being made about Obama are deeply personal and dehumanizing. Research I’ve performed and read concludes that “otherizing”—or making an opponent a member of an outgroup—is necessary to rationally vilify an opponent. Dehumanizing an opponent takes away any predisposition to expect reason and logic from an opponent. When an opponent is dehumanized, compromise and empathy are impossible, as the opponent is not capable of meeting this gesture in kind.

But this otherizing is predicated, to an alarming extent, on exaggerated relationships and policy positions, blatant lies, and elaborate baseless conspiracy theories. The Barack Obama the right otherizes is a Straw Man. It is a fabrication that has been blown up to extreme proportions by an extremely large percentage of the right.

From the beginning, it appeared to be Obama’s ‘outsider’ status as a young, new Senator that fueled a lot of the initial myths. People did not know Barack Obama. They did not know where he had been in his life, who he had known, who he had worked with, or who gave him advise. Of course, the continuation of this myth about Obama being unknown, mysterious, and a ‘stranger’ is my motivation for writing today. The fact that these myths have been continuously spread about Obama this close to the election can only be seen as a deliberate campaign to discredit the man.

Below is the original email my father sent me way back in the Spring of 2007, when conspiracy theorists could easily breed on a population of voters that simply did not know who Barack Obama was For the record, my father does not actually believe the accusations that follow:

Who is Barack Obama?

Probable U. S. presidential candidate, Barack Hussein Obama was born in

Honolulu, Hawaii, to Barack Hussein Obama, Sr., a black Muslim from

Nyangoma-Kogel, Kenya and Ann Dunham, a white atheist from Wichita,Kansas.

Obama's parents met at the University of Hawaii.

When Obama was two years old, his parents divorced. His father returned to Kenya.

His mother then married Lolo Soetoro, a radical Muslim from Indonesia.

When Obama was 6 years old, the family relocated to Indonesia.

Obama attended a Muslim school in Jakarta.

He also spent two years in a Catholic school.

Obama takes great care to conceal the fact that he is a Muslim.

He Is quick to point out that, "He was once a Muslim, but that he also attended Catholic school."

Obama's political handlers are attempting to make it appear that Obama's introduction to Islam came via his father, and that this influence was temporary at best.

In reality, the senior Obama returned to Kenya Soon after the divorce, and never again had any direct influence over His son's education.

Lolo Soetoro, the second husband of Obama's mother, Ann Dunham, introduced his stepson to Islam.

Obama was enrolled in a Wahabi school in Jakarta. Wahabism is the radical teaching that is followed by the Muslim terrorists who are now waging Jihad against the western world. Since it is politically expedient to be a Christian when seeking Major public office in the United States, Barack Hussein Obama has joined the United Church of Christ in an attempt to downplay his Muslim background.

Let us all remain alert concerning Obama's expected presidential candidacy.

Please forward to everyone you know. The Muslims have said they plan on destroying the US from the inside out, what better way to start than at the highest level.

In my next post, I'm going to expand on how these myths have been promoted and used in conservative discourse on Barack Obama and ask why it continues today. After two years of vetting as a presidential candidate, some prominent conservatives are still using racist insinuations to attack Barack Obama--but the Barack Obama they attack is nothing but a Straw Man as these politicos gear up for four years of entrenched disagreement with the Democratic president.

Later, I’m going to explore a simple case of most-comaparable cases. Given John McCain’s status as a foreign born (albeit to a US military family) citizen and prisoner of war in Vietnam, why haven’t accusations about John McCain’s past been circulating around the internet blogs and newsrooms across the country? I’ll take a look at the volume of equally ridiculous myths about the lives of Barack Obama and John McCain and ask why we see such a difference.

I fly to Akron tomorrow and will begin adding video and written accounts from then on.

Zach, it goes both ways. Its true that the right has taken things out of context, but so has the left about Sarah Palin. Why are we not hearing much about the hanging of a Sarah Palin figure in California? You paint the right as a group of racist people because they have questions about Obama that have not been adequately answered and certainly not addressed in the media. You seem to lump them into a group, well I'm offended by that. I am a right wing conservative based on my values. I do not think Obama is Muslim and could care less if he is black, I simply don't agree with him on his politics! Do I blame people for having questions about Obama? No way, he's likely going to be the next President of the United States and there is a gap in history about Obama. Do share those same questions? Some, not all. I told you once that I am pro-life because of my conviction that life starts at conception and my value that every life is significant. In the last debate Obama said that he wanted to reduce the amount of abortions. I say great, but how are you going to do that. He votes to eliminate the restrictions on abortion, and voted for government funding of abortions. You tell me...If you eliminate the restrictions and fund it with government money, how do you reduce them. Its all talk to down play his real position. That is the only alternative. He is a smooth talker, but can he be trusted? Can you articulate to me how you grow an economy from the bottom up? I would love to hear an answer to that question. How is taxing the rich to give to the poor or middle-class who are not paying taxes fair? Will Obama listen to his Generals, or will he ignore their advice based on what he thinks is best having no military experience?

Our country can't take a civil war, but with everything that's being said and the stereotypes being made I fear that there will be one. Its not that people disagree, its become a war of ideas where if you don't agree your the enemy. I am a conservative, does that make me a racist? That is the picture your painting! I disagree with your politics, but that doesn't mean that think your bad. As a matter of fact, I love you as my brother. I'm not sure what your doing is helpful. Support Obama in other ways, without making stereotypes.
Jon, it's fine to disagree with Obama on the issues. Many people have a problem with his statements on taxes, healthcare, the economy, etc. I completely respect that.

But, I never once said this was a matter of ALL conservatives--and I never would say that. People vote for different reasons, of course. And I KNOW this isn't a problem for most McCain/Palin supporters. I would never expect someone to not stand up for McCain out of fear of being labeled a 'racist'. That's absurd. And in an ideal world, we wouldn't hear someone say they aren't voting for Obama because he's black.

But I'm not going to stand idly while people say this stuff about Obama. In New York people say some nasty stuff about Ohio/rural parts of the country, and it offends me, and I say so. People say nasty stuff about Sarah Palin and I try to steer the conversation back to issues. But I don't know what has been said about Palin that could compare to Obama being called a terrorist, etc. Those are fighting words, those are not just election year tempers flaring.

What I'm talking about is REAL sentiments that are out there. This isn't make believe, fabrications, etc. I think one commenter on the video posted above makes a good point--no one said the people making these comments are bad people, but the reality is they're dealing with something they haven't had to in a really nasty way.

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