Commentary: Attacking Obama for Jeremiah Wright Is So 2008

Scrapped attack ad shows how Republicans are out of touch with reality.

Posted: 05/17/2012 01:41 PM EDT
Keith Boykin: Commentary: Attacking Obama for Jeremiah Wright Is so 2008

Just last week, political strategists said President Obama had a problem. They argued that Obama might lose votes from Black church members after he announced his support for same-sex marriage.

Then this week the New York Times reported that a group of high-profile Republican strategists is planning to attack Obama for his past connections to Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

Problem solved.

If anyone doubted that Black voters would turn out strongly for Obama this fall, they need worry no more. Launching an attack on a Black minister who once led Obama's former church is a surefire way to energize the base in the Black community and remind Black church folk whose side they're on.

The group, funded by conservative billionaire Joe Ricketts, had plans to hire an "extremely literate" African-American to serve as a front man, and they've already contacted Larry Elder, a Black conservative radio host in Los Angeles, to be a spokesman. They’d planned to argue that Obama misled the nation by presenting himself as a "metrosexual, Black Abe Lincoln."

However, once word got out, an aide to Ricketts issued a statement saying the plan was being shelved, reported the Associated Press. 

Even though the plan isn’t going forward, the proposal itself shows they're out of touch with reality. First, they talk about "literate" Black people as if that's a rare occurrence. Second, they think Elder will persuade people. And third, they want to attack the president for being a "metrosexual." Really?

But despite their ignorance, this group is dangerous. “The world is about to see Jeremiah Wright and understand his influence on Barack Obama for the first time in a big, attention-arresting way,” according to the now-scrapped plan. The Republican strategists say they want to "do exactly what John McCain would not let us do" in 2008. That is, they plan to lead a campaign of good old-fashioned race-baiting.

And how did Mitt Romney respond to the news? When asked whether Wright is off limits in the 2012 presidential campaign, Romney said he hadn't "read the papers yet," according to Los Angeles Times reporter Maeve Reston. Perhaps that should come as no surprise since the presumptive GOP nominee has already tried to link Obama to Wright, as he did in a radio interview with talk show host Sean Hannity in February.

And though the official Wright ad campaign will never see the light of day, the racist undertone will persist through November. This is not about winning independents. This is part of a dog-whistle campaign to reach out to those crazy conservatives who think Obama is a radical socialist Muslim Kenyan with no birth certificate and no right to be president.

But we've heard all that before, and the Wright story was already debated at length in the 2008 campaign, so why are they trying to do this again?

"It underscores the problem we've had since the Citizens United case," said Rashad Robinson, executive director of ColorOfChange. That controversial 5-4 Supreme Court decision two years ago allowed individuals and Super PACs to spend unlimited sums of money in presidential campaigns. "It's not the voice of everyday people that matters, but the rich and powerful who can push out any type of message they'd like in secret," Robinson added.

Despite the millions of dollars GOP strategists had planned to invest in the Wright campaign, NBC political director Chuck Todd and his colleagues suspect the attack may contradict what the public already knows of Obama. "While we know that there are conservatives who want to portray Obama as a socialist tied to people who hate America, his actual record over the past four years...doesn’t back up the conspiratorial narrative portrayed in this plan," they argued.

Each new dirty attack also threatens to bring Romney's own dirty laundry out into the open. Just last week, Romney delivered the commencement address at the late Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, even though Falwell famously said that terrorists gave America "what we deserved" on Sept. 11 and blamed 9/11 on the ACLU, abortionists, feminists and gays. And before that, Romney sought and won the endorsement of rock singer Ted Nugent, who recently stood on stage with machine guns and threatened President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with an obscenity-laced screed.

I don't think Republicans really want to go there with the "guilt by association" thing. But if they do, Democrats should be ready to pounce.

Keith Boykin is a New York Times best-selling author and former White House aide to President Clinton. He attended Harvard Law School with President Barack Obama and currently serves as a TV political commentator. He writes political commentary for BET.com each week.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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