Is Barack Obama black enough to be president of the United States? Is he too black? Does he belong to a church that is too radical? Is he too unpatriotic? Too Muslim? Is he too … Somali?
These are but a few of the tangential charges leveled against Barack Obama in what could be dubbed “the politics of personal distraction.”
Time and again these and other fringe issues have been brought up to dismiss his candidacy, and almost all are either unfair or irrelevant to the duties he would be asked to discharge as president of the United States.
Why do these seemingly trivial elements of his personal life crop up time and time again?
For a few — and thankfully, it seems to be only a few — it may be a simple matter of unadulterated bigotry. But for many, if not most, Americans, it is perhaps a more subtle fear that Obama may not share the same values, mores, and cultural norms with which they grew up. Those of European-American descent in the continental United States do not know if they have a shared cultural history with a man who spent at least part of his childhood in more exotic cultures such as Hawaii and Indonesia.
This fear of cultural differences seems to be the root of many of the stories and innuendo about Obama’s personal life, including the most recent furor over a picture of Obama in more or less traditional Somali dress (are golf shirts a tradition there?) while visiting Kenya, and another photo that seems to be of him wearing other African attire that some are claiming as Muslim in nature.
Fear-mongering based upon apparel choices shouldn’t be a concern for a politician — providing, of course, that you wear clothes when appropriate — and the clothes worn by Obama in these photos are only relevant in that they can be used by his rivals to paint him as unacceptably different in the eyes of potential voters.
Other assaults on Obama are more unique, such as claims that Obama is insufficiently patriotic to be a viable president, based upon his refusal to wear a U.S. flag lapel pin, that he once failed to put his hand over his heart while singing the national anthem, and that he met with 1960s-vintage domestic terrorists.
The first two issues are silly to some, but they cut quite deeply to many Americans who viscerally view the symbolism of patriotism to be very important in figures seeking the White House or other elective office. It is a token acknowledgment that the candidate has the best interests of the country at heart.
That Obama visited the home of William Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, unapologetic members of the Weather Underground, a violent 60s radical leftist group that claimed 25 bombings — including a failed bombing attempt against U.S. soldiers — is far more unsettling.
Perhaps it should be.
Likewise, the embrace of a “black values system” by Obama’s activist church and its support of Louis Farrakhan — Farrakhan recently lavished praise on Obama’s candidacy; Obama has since rejected his support — have been troubling associations, but at least these associations are more directly related to Obama’s fitness for the presidency as they relate to his judgment.
The minor elements of Obama’s life, however, should be irrelevant to Americans weighing whether or not he is capable of leading America, no matter how many times these stories resurface. Judging him for wearing a golf shirt and turban ensemble should only get him in trouble with Mr. Blackwell.
Voters should care about Obama’s political positions, his record, his philosophy on the role of government in our lives, and whether or not he has the experience, temperament, and judgment to be our president when compared against the probable Republican candidate, John McCain.
These are the issues that matter.
Isn’t it past time that we remember that?
Bob Owens blogs at Conservative Yankee.