Precisely on schedule, the usual assortment of right-wing operatives is preparing its expected assault on the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. While this unwholesome phase of the election cycle is known universally as “Swift-boating” — named after the defamatory media blitz against John Kerry four years ago — the style and some of the personnel date back at least two decades. So does the winking charade of separation between the official Republican presidential campaign and the dirty business conducted on its behalf.

The only notable difference this year is that neither the money nor the message has crystallized yet behind any “independent” effort to destroy the candidacy of Barack Obama. Whether such a campaign against him can be mounted effectively remains to be seen, but it will not fail for lack of trying.

Back in 2004, the Swift boat group’s attack on Kerry commenced in earnest with the August publication of “Unfit for Command,” a book purporting to prove that the Democratic nominee’s decorations for courage as a Navy officer in Vietnam were undeserved and that he had fabricated his sterling military record. Those sensational charges won immense publicity for the authors and were soon augmented by a wave of national advertising, with millions in seed money provided by a group of wealthy Bush supporters based in Texas. Of course the fingerprints of Karl Rove, then the president’s top political strategist, were all over that ugly episode.

This August will mark the publication of the first book-length screed against Obama, courtesy of Regnery Publishing, the house responsible for the scurrilous smearing of Kerry between hard covers. At work on the Obama tome is David Freddoso, a young writer from the stable of the National Review, whose byline has also appeared in the ultra-right-wing magazine Human Events and who was reportedly trained by Robert Novak, the conservative “prince of darkness.” His straightforward title is “The Case Against Barack Obama.”

Competing with Freddoso’s book for talk radio promotion and cable airtime will be a similar product by Jerome Corsi, one of the authors of “Unfit for Command,” who has migrated from Regnery to a Simon & Schuster imprint. With somewhat labored cleverness, his book will be titled “The Obama Nation,” and is likely to posit, among many other implausible claims, that the Illinois senator is under the influence of the defunct Communist Party USA.

Aside from such far-fetched theorizing, which excites only the hard-core fringe, what canards will the anti-Obama campaign exploit? Several themes have undergone testing in recent days, with mixed results.

Evangelical leader James Dobson has suggested that Obama is deliberately distorting the meaning of the Bible, which is an unsubtle method of questioning the Democratic candidate’s Christian commitment and raising fears (again) that he is really a Muslim. “I think he’s deliberately distorting the traditional understanding of the Bible to fit his own worldview, his own confused theology,” said Dobson on his popular radio broadcast, adding that Obama “is dragging biblical understanding through the gutter.” Describing Obama’s interpretation of the Constitution, he used the word fruitcake, a term that must be very familiar to him.

Meanwhile, Floyd Brown, a right-wing huckster and unabashed promoter of racial fear dating back to the notorious Willie Horton ad of 1988, is back pushing the Muslim theme against Obama. This, too, is an obvious attempt to inflame anxieties over race and ethnicity. For too many Americans, Muslim wrongly means foreign and nonwhite.

And this week the world heard again from Rove, who raised the old “elitist” trope against Obama, much as the Republicans used envy and resentment against Kerry for his wealth and status. “Even if you never met him, you know this guy,” sneered Rove during a breakfast at the Capitol Hill Club. “He’s the guy at the country club with the beautiful date, holding a martini and a cigarette that stands against the wall and makes snide comments about everyone who passes by.” Insecure and pathetic as that makes Rove sound, he surely knows how to provoke envy and resentment among voters, especially white males. That was one of the most important messages used by the Republicans against Kerry in 2004, such as in the famous windsurfing ad.

So perhaps Obama will be portrayed as a Muslim Marxist who hangs out at the country club, sipping cocktails and sneering at the common folk. The true message in that kind of crude, contradictory propaganda is utter contempt for the target audience — in other words, for you.

Joe Conason writes for the New York Observer.

© 2008 Creators Syndicate Inc.

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