The cover of this week’s Newsweek read "Obama, Race, and Us." But the cover story isn’t really a news report at all. It’s Newsweek’s Evan Thomas playing Obama adviser, writing a memo offering all his wisdom on behalf of the Democrat. When you really want the Democrats to win, you apparently start telling them how they should (and shouldn’t) do it. The headline was "Memo to Senator Obama: Given his successes, it's easy to argue that Barack Obama doesn't need advice. But how he'll handle race going forward is by no means a settled issue. Our open letter." Thomas also repeats the incessant Newsweek dirge that Obama's being smeared as a Muslim on the Internet.
Thomas oddly argued that Obama will be the beneficiary of gaffes (not the provider?), but must provide the people with solidly liberal policy alternatives that will be the more helpful to the lower-income voters than the Republicans:
You are asking the wary to trust you, so your promises, and policy, must ring true. Your opponents will make gaffes, and you'll be able to capitalize on them. Last week Clinton referred to Robert F. Kennedy's June 1968 assassination in defending her decision to keep her campaign going. (She later said she regretted if her comments were "in any way offensive.")
But it's a tricky business. You can't seem petty or muddle your message of running a different kind of campaign. You wisely resisted the temptation to pander on gas prices, to scorn McCain and Clinton for offering a gas-tax "holiday" this summer that would probably not do much to lower gas prices – but could put more greenhouse emissions in the air and loot into the bank accounts of the petro-dictators. But you have much to offer lower-income voters. It is a fact that more poor and uninsured people will get better health care under your plan than McCain's. (McCain has called your plan too expensive and said it would saddle the government with an "entitlement program … that Washington will let get out of control.") The Republican candidate's answer to the vanishing of jobs offshore is to tell voters that, in the long run, free trade is good for them. You can promise to bring those jobs home with tougher trade policies. McCain wants to continue the Bush tax cuts; you will raise taxes on the rich to pay for benefits that will primarily help the middle and lower class.
Other than that, the most annoying part of the Thomas memo was yet another episode of complaining about Obama being smeared on the Internet, the third such complaint in the last five editions of Newsweek. Complained Thomas:
The Internet has been a sluice for lies and distortions about your religion and background. It is widely and falsely rumored that you are Muslim (in the NEWSWEEK Poll, 11 percent of voters believe you are); that you chose to be sworn in to the Senate using a Qur'an rather than a Bible, and that you refuse to place your hand over your heart for the singing of the national anthem because, you are imagined to have said, "the anthem conveys a warlike message." As a recent post on Politico.com points out, there is a "Genealogy of Barack Hussein Obama" making the Web rounds, helpfully illustrated by pictures of your dark-complexioned relatives dressed in African garb. The message is not subtle: it says that Barack Obama is not a "real American."
You must confront this slur, with more force than you have shown so far. If you do not, you will be defined by your enemies and the Web, a dangerous combination. You movingly told your life story in a book that's become a best seller. And lately, you have wisely taken to often wearing an American-flag lapel pin. It would help to be seen venerating your white mother and grandparents as well as your black father. Your mother is a sympathetic figure, fighting to raise a child out of poverty. It is a good thing that this summer you are scheduled to go to the grave site of your grandfather, a World War II vet whose coffin was draped with the American flag when he died in 1992. Voters need to know that he, much more than your father who lived far away, was the man who raised you. Voters need to know that you are definitely not John Kerry, who was raised to wealth and privilege, an Ivy Leaguer educated, for a time, at a Swiss boarding school.
That, of course, was not the Kerry image Newsweek wanted reported. To them, he was a war-hero with an anti-war conscience. Two weeks ago, in the May 19 Newsweek, we highlighted the magazine attacking Republican haters and slime merchants with Muslim smears:
It is a sure bet that the GOP will try to paint Obama as "the other" -- as a haughty black intellectual who has Muslim roots (Obama is a Christian) and hangs around with America-haters....
Sen. John McCain himself has explicitly disavowed playing the race card or taking the low road generally. But he may not be able to resist casting doubt on Obama's patriotism. And the real question is whether he can -- or really wants to -- rein in the merchants of slime and sellers of hate who populate the Internet and fund the "independent expenditure" groups who exercise their freedom in ways that give a bad name to free speech.
Two weeks before that, in the May 5 Newsweek, readers faced the same complaint:
Yet to pockets of America, he still seems to be the "other." He seems a little strange, exotic; those cracked e-mails whispering about his middle name (Hussein) and declaring, fictitiously, that he is a Muslim who insisted on being sworn into office on the Qur'an rather than the Bible, keep buzzing around the Internet.
As NewsBusters already noted, Newsweek touted its "Racial Resentment Index" and explained (mildly) it was only measuring white resentment:
NEWSWEEK pollsters recently created a "Racial Resentment Index" to measure the impact of race on the 2008 election. White voters were asked a series of 10 questions about a variety of race-related topics, including racial preferences in hiring, interracial marriage—and what they have "in common" with African-Americans. About a third of these voters scored "high" on this index; 29 percent of all white Democrats did. Overwhelmingly, these Democrats are the ones most likely to defect to John McCain in the fall. (Among "High RR" white Democratic voters, according to the new NEWSWEEK Poll, Clinton leads McCain by 77 percent to 18 percent, while you win by only 51 percent to 33 percent.)
Thomas also demonstrated the magazine's liberal leanings by quoting the Daily Kos and Salon.com as expert sources of advice and opinion.