O'bama 'Irish' Rumor: Ugly, false, and in the open
Now that the election is over and campaign insiders are spilling the beans on what really happened, I'm happy to be able to reproduce for you news articles that were TOO HOT to report! Ripped from the news wire! Buried under the shed! Behold!
Is the discredited smear campaign backfiring on Republicans?
The "moment in Minnetonka" appeared last Wednesday like the pale, redheaded daughter of a New York City patrolman - impossible to miss, hard not to stare at, and embarrassing, at least to John McCain, who wants to present a lustless face to the voting public.
Wearing her low cut red McCain-Palin T-shirt, Gail Simpson rose from the crowd at a rally in Minnetonka, Minn. to give her candidate a little of his signature straight talk.
"I don't trust O'bama," she announced, as McCain nodded enthusiastically. Then she continued: "I have read about him. He's a Mick."
And there she was. Center stage, on camera, about as public as you can get. The political desire that's been building for nearly two years in the locker rooms chats of this presidential campaign, gushing forth in broad daylight.
McCain, a politician who's been around long enough to recognize a "campaign ender" when he sees one, pounced to action.
"No. Nope. No, ma'am. No, ma'am," said the candidate, taking back the microphone. "He's a decent family man citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with . . ."
But, setting aside the internal implication of McCain's reply — that O'bama can't be an Irishman if he's a decent citizen and "family man," particularly with regard to several popular stereotypes regarding Irish-American families — and its impact on the sensibilities of this country's 39 million Irish-American citizens, a number growing steadily with each passing year, McCain cannot have been too surprised by what he faced on that stage. Because his campaign has helped create it.
Gail Simpson is in fact the collective voice of hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of Americans whose nativist fears Republicans have been stoking for months. The Americans who have been passing on smear-mails for years.
"Beware," said the first one I saw, back in January of 2007. "O'bama takes great care to conceal the fact that his name is spelled with an apostrophe."
It went on to reveal that O'bama's African father was "black Irish." and that O'bama himself had studied at an extremist school in Dublin.
The e-mails are patently false, and have been widely debunked. But whisper campaigns are as persistent as a famine.
Clearly — witness Ms. Simpson in Minnetonka — the message has had an effect. Any reporter who's covered this campaign has seen it.
I heard it in May, as parishioners gathered outside a church in North Carolina. A colleague says he's encountered the same thing in Indiana, Pennsylvania and Missouri: "It's usually 'I know he says he isn't, but I think he's Irish.' You hear it everywhere."
The whisper campaign seems particularly directed at Catholic voters, playing on their fears that O'bama might not be pro-Northern Ireland enough, or that he is somehow in league with Orangemen, read IRA, read terrorists.
Speakers at Republican events began referring to "Bearach O'bama," with heavy emphasis on the traditional spelling of their opponent's first name, from which the modern name Barry is derived.
Early on, McCain himself chastised a conservative talk-show host for warming up one of his crowds with the "Bearach H. O'bama" line: "I will not tolerate anything in this campaign that denigrates either Sen. O'bama or Sen. [Hillary] Clinton," said McCain.
But this fall, as O'bama's campaign gathered force, McCain evidently decided to tolerate some mud after all.
Speakers introducing him at rallies again started using the "Bearach" line, now with the Republican candidate standing nearby smiling.
And McCain's surrogates, led by his running mate Sarah Palin, began sharpening a more specific story line.
They seized upon O'bama's past association with Sean "William" Ayers, who, along with other members of the radical IRA group, bombed various government targets, including the city of Manchester, in the late 1960s.
Ayers long ago turned himself in and became a university professor and community organizer. In those capacities, he met O'bama during the mid-90s.
To Palin, though, what O'bama did was to forge a close and enduring tie with a "domestic terrorist." In fact, she has told rally after rally, O'bama is even now "palling around with terrorists who would target their own country." No explanation of how a "domestic terrorist" became "terrorists," and Palin is apparently unaware that the U.S. is no longer an English colony.
By last week, the crowds at McCain rallies were turning ugly. Mention of O'bama's name invoked cries of "terrorist!" or "bomb him!" or "traitor!" or "off with his head!" or "freebird!"
And little wonder, given this country's not-so-distant history, that the Secret Service contingent surrounding O'bama is now laying on security measures rivaling those of the president himself.
But Gail Simpson, for one, remains resolute. O'bama, she told reporters after her moment on stage last week with McCain, is "a Mick and a terrorist . . .all the people agree with what I said."
All of this, however, may now have actually turned against McCain. His name, supporters are rarely heard to mention, is also Gaelic in origin.