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Dog Eating, Composite Girlfriends, And Other Memes That Won’t Win An Election

In a column in The Telegraph, Tim Stanley attempts to argue that the stories that have come out about Barack Obama’s past, that he once ate dog and that his description of a New York girlfriend in Dreams From My Father, is important and in the process repeats a numbers of memes we’ve heard from the right over the last four years:

Why didn’t we know all these details four years ago – even though some of them were published in a best-selling autobiography that was sold to us as if it was a fifth gospel? And yet we knew everything there was to know about Sarah Palin, despite the fact that she was in the race for a much shorter space of time than Obama – and only running for veep.

That’s the significance of the canine and composite revelations – both of them, aside from their delightful “dish” factors, not really revelations at all. That we are only discussing them this late into Obama’s career suggests that the vetting that should have happened four years ago was unforgivably neglected. But, hey, it’s never too late to start.

The idea that Barack Obama wasn’t vetted is something we’ve heard from the right constantly for the past four years. During the 2008 campaign, the complaints typically revolved around the claim that the media wasn’t covering things like then-Senator Obama’s ties to Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers (or, for some, that they weren’t demanding to see his birth certificate, college transcripts, or kindergarten graduation records). The most bizarre thing about these particular complaints four years ago is the fact that most of them were being made at the same time that the media was covering the things conservatives said they weren’t covering. Does nobody remember the month of April 2008 when Obama was forced to publicly address the Rev. Wright controversy twice during the course of  a hotly contested primary fight with Hillary Clinton, for example? First, Obama gave a major address in Philadelphia on race after several weeks of press coverage about Wright’s controversial statements. Then, when Rev. Wright decided to go on his own press tour during which he not only doubled down on the controversial statements that were getting coverage in the media nearly every day, but basically said that Obama had only spoken out against those statements for political reasons, Obama found it necessary to openly denounce and disassociate himself from Wright completely. Arguably, the fact that Rev. Wright was in the news for almost the entire month of April 2008 was one of the primary reasons that Obama ended up losing the Pennsylvania Primary. To argue, then, that the media wasn’t covering these issues about Obama’s past is simply absurd. By the time the General Election rolled around, the Rev. Wright issue had been covered to death by the media, and Obama survived it. Clearly, the only reason that it remained a source of complaint on the right was because it didn’t have the effect they had hoped it would.

There’s another fact, though, that makes Stanley’s argument patently absurd. Dreams From My Father was published in 1995, and enjoyed something of a resurgence in sales in 2007 and 2008 as a result of Obama’s Presidential campaign. The idea that the details that are coming out now about dog eating or composite girlfriends were hidden from us becomes patently silly once you realize that those details were in a book that was easily available at Amazon, Borders, and Barnes & Noble. For those on the right who complain about why the media didn’t report on these details from the book four years ago, I have a question —- why didn’t you? After all, the conservative blogosphere didn’t come into existence after Barack Obama was elected, and there’s nothing in the world that would’ve prevented someone at National Review, The Weekly Standard, or Red State from  writing that groundbreaking “Obama Ate A Dog And Wrote About Composite Girlfriends!” article back in May of 2008. Why didn’t they? Well, I can only ascribe it to laziness or a realization that nobody would really give a crap about these non-stories.

As James Joyner noted in his post this morning, Barack Obama has been President of the United States for nearly four years now, and he’s been on the national scene as either a candidate for President or as President since 2007. The idea that we have no idea who the man is, or that he hasn’t been “vetted” is simply an absurd fantasy that partisans are using in what looks for all the world like a desperate effort to find something, anything that they can use against him in the upcoming election. The fact that they’re reduced to things like dog eating and memories of a mid-80s girlfriend or two that have been mashed together for autobiographical purposes indicates that they really don’t have much of anything to go on. The fact that they’re pushing stories like this against an incumbent President at the same time that they’re saying that the state of the economy guarantees that he won’t be re-elected is a pretty good indication that they don’t believe their own rhetoric.

I don’t plan on voting for Barack Obama in November, but it won’t be because he once ate a dog and later wrote a book where he combined details about two girlfriends into one narrative in a book that wasn’t really about them and I suspect that there are few if any American voters who are going to base their decision on such irrelevancies.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. al-Ameda says:

    The idea that any major politician is not adequately vetted in early 21st Century America is absurd. Our political campaigns are seemingly permanent and endless, and we get to know our politicians too well. A case could be made that Americans suffer from vetting fatigue disorder.

    I don’t plan on voting for Mitt Romney in November, however won’t be because he strapped his dog Seamus to the roof of the family car and drove to Canada.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  2. michael reynolds says:

    As I said earlier I literally have no idea why either thing would outrage me. Maybe I need remedia help, but where’s the wrong?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  3. Gustopher says:

    From the blockquoted text:

    And yet we knew everything there was to know about Sarah Palin, despite the fact that she was in the race for a much shorter space of time than Obama – and only running for veep.

    Well, there was nothing much to know about her other than scary, unprepared, right-wing grifter. We didn’t even need to know what newspapers she read to figure that out.

    (Also, I’m pretty sure the dog Obama ate was a composite too)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  4. Ian says:

    I was going to comment, but all that needed to be said was said. If this was so important, the WSJ, Fox News, talk radio, or the legions of Conservative bloggers could have unearthed it at any time. It’s not like they were waving the dog thing under the nose of the NYT, and the TImes just wasn’t covering it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  5. Jeremy R says:

    The Atlantic: Obama’s Composite Girlfriend: How Politico and Drudge Created Fake News

    While it’s obviously right for Politico to have updated the item, it’s really not enough. The article is the most popular one on their site as of writing; it’s been shared nearly 2,000 times on Facebook and tweeted more than 600 times. But there’s no indication that it has been updated — to say nothing of practically debunked — until the reader reaches the very end of post. Realistically, many of them will not. This laxity and haste makes Politico look like a partisan operation like the Daily Caller — which it’s not (ironically, Byers proudly noted just this week how centrist Politico’s audience is.).

    Of course, there are plenty of folks who aren’t even that scrupulous. The story blew up after influential yellow journalist Matt Drudge posted the item on his website.

    http://www.poynter.org/latest-news/regret-the-error/172570/politico-detonates-rumor-bomb-with-false-accusation-about-obama-book/

    From the introduction to Dreams from my Father, and it’s been there from the very first edition:

    Finally, there are the dangers inherent in any autobiographical work: the temptation to color events in ways favorable to the writer, the tendency to overestimate the interest one’s experiences hold for others, selective lapses of memory. Such hazards are only magnified when the writer lacks the wisdom of age; the distance that can cure one of certain vanities. I can’t say that I’ve avoided all, or any, of these hazards successfully. Although much of this book is based on contemporaneous journals or the oral histories of my family, the dialogue is necessarily an approximation of what was actually said or relayed to me. For the sake of compression, some of the characters that appear are composites of people I’ve known, and some events appear out of precise chronology. With the exception of my family and a handful of public figures, the names of most characters have been changed for the sake of their privacy.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  6. I picture poor Sarah, wanting to say “I don’t like him,” but wanting to sound smarter, more rational, and saying “he wasn’t vetted” instead.

    (As she certainly feels “she wasn’t vetted” as an attack on her.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  7. Fiona says:

    This stuff is news in much the same way the story that Ann Romney wore a $1000 blouse to a recent interview is news–both are sideshows aimed to distract from the actual issues. I don’t care about Ann Romney’s blouse; I don’t care about Obama’s composite girlfriend; and I think the media pays way too much attention to stupid trivia.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 18 Thumb down 0

  8. mantis says:

    The idea that we have no idea who the man is, or that he hasn’t been “vetted” is simply an absurd fantasy that partisans are using in what looks for all the world like a desperate effort to find something, anything that they can use against him in the upcoming election. The fact that they’re reduced to things like dog eating and memories of a mid-80s girlfriend or two that have been mashed together for autobiographical purposes indicates that they really don’t have much of anything to go on.

    Exactly. They can’t actually run on their policies (Paul Ryan’s eat the poor plan), or their record in the last three+ years (do nothing Congress, state-level punishment of teachers, firefighters, and women), so they are going to rely on the absurd fantasy. It’s all they’ve got.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  9. mattb says:

    I think the mistake is to assume that any of this is about winning independent/cross-over voters. Its not.

    What it is about is uniting the base against Obama. And that’s critical because the powers that be on the Republican/Conservative side of the aisle know that the only way they win in the fall is to get a stronger base turnout than they did in 2008.

    And, given that their candidate is generating more or less the same reaction with the base that McCain did — and that their mouth pieces spent the last few months telling their listeners/readers how Romney isn’t a real conservative — their only hope is get the base out to vote against Obama (rather than vote for Romney).

    The best way to do that is not to hit on the substantive issues, but rather to appeal to the baser instincts of the base. And to that point, this is the start of a what I expect to be a really ugly campaign.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  10. Blue Shark says:

    There’s another fact, though…

    …You see? Here is the problem with this entire analysis. It contains pesky facts.

    …The Republican narrative for years now has been absolutely fact-free, and aggressively so.

    …This ignorance is willful and voluntary and broadcast daily 24/7.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  11. Blue Shark says:

    Doug

    “I don’t plan on voting for Barack Obama in November”

    …You just slay me.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  12. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Tim Stanley??

    In any event, one of the problems with the right side of the political spectrum is that its denizens simply do not understand politics. They actually believe this sort of tripe is important. Clueless, they are.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  13. Bennett says:

    I don’t care that Anne Romney wore a thousand dollar shirt. But, I mean, damn, that thing was HIDEOUS. Is that what a grand gets you these days?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  14. Moderate Mom says:

    @Bennett:

    That was my initial impression too. Strangely enough though, the more I see it, the more I like it. However, I certainly wouldn’t spend that kind of money on it. But, then again, I wouldn’t spend the kind of money most designer duds cost, even if I could afford them. Michelle Obama’s infamous Lanvin tennis shoes, at $560, were also quite ugly, just proving that being expensive doesn’t mean being tasteful.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  15. James Joyner says:

    @michael reynolds: It’s only because you’re a lefty elitist who doesn’t live in Real America that you can’t feel the outrage. Why, Obama admitted at the correspondent’s dinner the other night that he finds pit bulls delicious. Michael Vick went to prison for less than that. And I’m pretty sure there’s something in the Bible about composite girlfriends–it just ain’t right.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  16. gVOR08 says:

    Doug – you wrote,

    The idea that we have no idea who the man is, or that he hasn’t been “vetted” is simply an absurd fantasy

    Don’t you notice, Doug, that very often conservatives just know stuff. No evidence, no reasoning. They just know. And they just know there’s something wrong about Obama. Don’t know what, but they just know there’s something. So until the press find this deep, dark imaginary something, he obviously hasn’t been properly vetted.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  17. Moosebreath says:

    James,

    “And I’m pretty sure there’s something in the Bible about composite girlfriends–it just ain’t right.”

    Since the Bible has numerous examples of bigamy and even harems, I have always wondered why supporters of Biblical morality on other sexual issues do not favor them. I guess we are all “cafeteria Catholics”.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  18. Modulo Myself says:

    Romney should definitely emphasize that he has no ex-girlfriends, no diaries, no interesting facts at all concerning his love life.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  19. Jenos Idanian says:

    So, since large portions of the book are fictionalized, does that make him eligible for the Nobel Prize In Literature?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 4

  20. swbarnes2 says:

    @gVOR08:

    Don’t you notice, Doug, that very often conservatives just know stuff. No evidence, no reasoning. They just know. And they just know there’s something wrong about Obama. Don’t know what, but they just know there’s something.

    But they know exactly what it is. They’ve been saying it for years too. Obama as a witch doctor pictures, Obama eating fried chicken and watermelon, terrorist fist bumps, baby mamas, and all the other stuff I can’t think of off the top of my head.

    Obama’s a black man who doesn’t agree with conservatives. Therefore, he’s not a real American, and can’t be a legitimate president.

    What % of conservatives have been birther sympathizers over the last few years, 30-40%? It’s the same impulse, driven by the same motives.

    Why would anyone who claims to be knowledgable about politics talk about this phenomenon as if it’s a complete mystery, and totally inexplicable? The evidence is everywhere.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  21. anjin-san says:

    Michelle Obama’s infamous Lanvin tennis shoes, at $560

    Where exactly are her shoes “infamous” – lesser wingnuttia, greater, or both?

    Good shoes are expensive, and $560 is not a great deal of money for a decent pair. I checked out the shoes, they are not bad looking at all.

    Shoes and blouses? The prattle of the dead.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  22. James Joyner says:

    @anjin-san: I don’t care in the least what rich people spend their money on. I defended John McCain’s $520 Ferragamo loafers and will surely defend Michelle Obama’s right to spend her own money on nice shoes. $1000 for a blouse does strike me as absurd; but $1000 is real money to me.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  23. matt says:

    @anjin-san: Man some of you people live in a world that I cannot even fathom. $560 for a pair of shoes? I barely make that much in a month at one of my jobs

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  24. James Joyner says:

    @matt: Certainly, that’s more than I’ve ever spent on a pair of shoes. But people making big money–and I’m talking big law firm money, not rock star money–don’t have any problem spending it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  25. mattb says:

    @James Joyner: The issue isn’t so much that people are spending that amount of money on things, but that they are simultaneously claiming to “know what average people are going through” and living in a world where, to use your phrase, $1000 isn’t real money.

    Granted, for the Obama’s, $1000 hasn’t been real money for a while. But at least both of them grew up in environments where it was “real.”

    The Romney’s are good people, but neither of them grew up in an environment where $1000 was real money. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Nor does it preclude them from being able to abstractly empathize with people with less money.

    But, of course, abstract empathy doesn’t cut the mustard in the retail politics of today. And so Mitt and fam have to desperately pretend to be “of the people” (rather than “for the people”). And that just ends up helping perpetuate a certain air of fakeness around him.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0