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Monday, August 04, 2008

FNB Politics

by digby

Perlstein dug up his prophetic essay from March 2007 about the character of the coming Republican presidential campaign:

Faggot. Nigger. Bitch. Please excuse the blunt language. From here forward, to avoid the ugly words, I’ll refer to it as “FNB politics.” With little to show the electorate in 2008—after six years of uninterrupted control—besides sub-standard care from a privatized workforce at Walter Reed Hospital, thrice-married “family values” presidential candidates, and a boom in home foreclosures, the conservative base’s 2008 strategy has begun to emerge: Weaken the major Democratic opponents by making their image unpalatable to the public.

He goes on to describe the many ways we've already seen Democrats derided exactly that way through this campaign. His predictions about Obama are especially interesting:

FNB politics cam be tricky to write about, and to pin down, because it relies on surfacing deep-seated anxieties and archetypes that, when revealed to the light of day, appear ridiculous. It’s even trickier to fashion indictments—in a bottom-up media ecology where Karl Rove need never say “show Edwards carrying a purse” (like the Johnson aide caught on tape in July 1964 suggesting that his campaign cast Barry Goldwater as radioactive by using images of “kids being born with two heads”) to start the evolution in motion.

Take the saga of Trinity United Church of Christ and its “black value system”—a crucial building block in the absurd smear that Barack Obama is a Manchurian black nationalist. The first mention I could find of it via the blog search engine Technorati came in July, on a site called PollywogCreekPorch. The next was December 8, on the site Faith and Action, which reports that an “exclusive commitment to a cultural and national identity played a major role in Obama’s decision to identify himself with Christianity.” You find the claim proliferating around the time the madrassa smear refused to stick; a key driver was a column titled “Barack Hussein Obama: Who Is He?” by none other than Ted Sampley, the pioneering swift boater who invented the charge that John McCain was brainwashed by communists. By February, Tucker Carlson was quoting the Trinity document, noting it “calls for congregants to be ’soldiers for Black freedom.’”

Handily, he dropped the second part of the clause, “… and the dignity of all humankind.” That message—looking after your own ethnic group is complimentary, not incompatible, with aspirations to universal justice—is less controversial; it’s the lesson every Diaspora Jew is taught from the cradle. But is Barack Obama only out to help blacks? The doubt has been planted in the public mind.

Doesn’t this contradict another Limbaugh slur—that Obama is “Halfrican” (the implication being that he was only pretending to be black, sneaking in the affirmative action back door)? It’s another tricky facet of writing about FNB politics: In a discourse that plays on half-conscious archetypes, opposites can cohabit comfortably—as in dreams. John Dower, for example, in his brilliant War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War, shows the simultaneous stereotypes of Japanese as pathetically weak midgets and indomitable giant monsters. Surrogates need only throw various archetypes “out there,” as they say; the dungeon that is the human subconscious can be counted on to do the rest.

It gets downright gothic in the case of Obama. One of Limbaugh’s ongoing jabs is that white female reporters find him sexually irresistible. “Snerdley is convinced Maureen [Dowd] wants Barack Obama,” he sighs. “I don’t even want to go there.” He depicted Time’s Ana Marie Cox as helpless before Obama’s overpowering sexuality, putting the following thoughts into her head: “Well, there’s no question the power is crackling through his jeans!”

It reminds me of a Nixon masterpiece. The visuals for the Republican presidential candidate’s most pathbreaking commercials in 1968 featured only mood-setting stills. The one that began with Nixon intoning, “It is time for an honest look at the problem of order in the United States,” flashed pictures of burned out buildings—no black rioters, just the consequences of what rampaging blacks did. Then, finally, on a rubble-strewn street, a close-up of a mannequin that, if you weren’t paying attention, could scan subconsciously as a naked white woman lying helpless in the middle of the street: Birth of a Nation time.

And here's the key:

The genius of FNB politics is that it can make those who diagnose it sound like barking moonbats. Sometimes you have a case. Sometimes, you’re just being paranoid (Matt Druge says “Dems rumble in Hollywood jungle; Clinton-Obama throwdown”—Aha! Jungle!—and “Obama team takes a ’Lincoln Bedroom’ shot”). And it’s often only in retrospect that the game seems truly deliberate. In 1952, Nixon used the word “traitor” to describe Dean Acheson, Adlai Stevenson, and Harry Truman. Outrageous!, Democrats responded. Whatever do you mean?, Nixon said in wounded tones, claiming he’d been misunderstood; he only meant they were “traitors to the high principles in which many of the nation’s Democrats believe.” Today, it’s obvious that he meant to suggest, you know, the crime of treason.

The bonus: His charge also revealed liberals as shrieking and hypersensitive. That’s the problem with FNB politics, and Reagan showed it better than anyone. He used to make jokes: About Africans, “When they have a man for lunch, they really have him for lunch.” So, when gubernatorial candidate Pat Brown distributed a pamphlet (“Ronald Reagan, Extremist Collaborator—An Exposé”) of such quotations in 1966, it backfired. Reagan was making a joke! Why are these liberals so humorless?

Read the whole thing, here.