Yesterday morning, the New York Times reported on a super-PAC plan submitted to Joe Ricketts, founder of TD Ameritrade and owner of the Chicago Cubs. Entitled, "The Defeat of Barack Hussein Obama: The Ricketts Plan to End His Spending for Good," it proposed a $10 million series of ads tying Obama to Reverend Jeremiah Wright. By early afternoon, Ricketts had abandoned the plan outright.
There's nothing wrong with the plan. Apart from violent imagery about "being locked and loaded" for Obama's "demise," apart from Ricketts seeing backlash against public financing for improvements to Wrigley Field and liberals threatening to close TD Ameritrade accounts, and apart from the project featuring clowns and antics you've seen before, it's just as sound as it ever was: "Barack Obama's name is foreign," the story goes, "and he knew an angry black dude. The deficit. Socialism."
Conservatives keep bringing up the Jeremiah Wright business because it works on so many instinctual levels. Voters who believe in the glories of American exceptionalism are reflexively disgusted by anyone advocating the radical idea that sometimes bad things happen to America because America does bad things. I mean, for Heaven's sakes, this nation was singled out by God. There is a divine method and mystery to, say, napalm, that it's our job to figure out, if it at first seems bad. ("Wait, it's jellied gasoline? Well, you go ahead and get mad at America for dropping Smucker's breakfast on Vietnam, comrade.")
Wright also presents a formidable example of the black "Other." He's persuasive and professorial enough to make that critical appraisal of America seem respectable. Besides the menacing negro-with-a-library card vibe he throws off, he not only built a huge congregation, but he and Obama knew each other for years before Wright's sermons came to light. They were hanging out right under our noses, like those people have their own meetings all the time that we don't know about, where plans are laid out for the next black thing that white kids will want to do, and everyone votes on what kinds of people can use the N-word. Community organizers and angry black preachers mobilizing over 5,000 black citizens? Dude, they're in a fucking gang.
But most importantly, bringing up Jeremiah Wright in 2012 because you believe that bringing him up in 2008 wasn't "enough" fits with the modern Republican irony of being destined to succeed yet simultaneously subject to constant, unfair victimization. Saying America needs more Jeremiah Wright ads suggests that the phantom "liberal" media hid the facts or that some admixture of obfuscation and indifference let people fail to grasp that, in 2008, the GOP was inescapably, unimpeachably right. And popular! It's the same vanity and absence of critical self-awareness that fuels the "birther" cause. To wit: there is no way that someone choosing between The Republican Candidate and Anyone Else will pick the latter, because the normative conditions of Republicanism are being American and always right. Barack Obama was proof that something had gone wrong before he signed any legislation anyone objected to. The media didn't air the Wright sermons enough. There was an over-40-year conspiracy to elect the Indonesian-Kenyan-Muslim-Midichlorian socialist. Bill Ayers. Saul Alinsky. Purity of Essence.
Ricketts seems to have bailed on the proposal to double down on the Wright issue because it was a public relations hot potato and not for the reason that seems obvious to everyone outside the angry conservative bubble: that it probably wasn't going to do a damn bit of good. If Reverend Wright and his comments are the sorts of things that, in your mind, outweigh four years of Obama's actual conduct as president, then you probably were persuaded in 2008. The ads will work with people on whom they've already worked.
If you're still undecided about Wright, it's certainly possible that his angry rhetoric will move you in some way, but again, there's that four-year record of governance that doesn't resemble anything Wright was mad about. Besides, you might also be the sort of person who recognizes that just sitting in someone's church doesn't equal an endorsement of their beliefs. Even catholic conservative Ross Douthat says as much when he acknowledges that the majority of catholic couples will practice birth control at some point, contrary to teachings they've heard their whole lives. On the other side of the political aisle, conservatives who first read the Sermon on the Mount during childhood and attest to the absolute truth of the Word of the Lord nonetheless vote for an economic policy of "fuck you, got mine."
Obama's job was community outreach, both as an organizer and elected official, in a city where Wright's thousands of parishioners were active in their neighborhoods. If a voter has ever worked in an office with a fellow employee who has a worldview and a sense of humor gleaned exclusively from email forwards, that voter knows just how much being obliged to work with someone does not equal endorsement.
And if you thought all this stuff was absurd in 2008, then you were at least about to have some fun. Instead, Ricketts pulled the plug.
It's too bad. The Ricketts proposal was put together by Fred Davis, the genius behind several ad misfires, including Christine O'Donnell's infamously hilarious "I'm not a witch... I'm you" video. (Davis screwed up by refusing to have O'Donnell endure an "Ordeal by Water" on reality television to set ratings records and settle the whole witch thing once and for all.) Davis also created the 2008 anti-Obama "Celebrity" ad that Karl Rove seems to think will work this time. The proposal calls for hiring Jon Voight to do voiceover work, and anything that gets him on TV ever since he looked at his daughter's blood-vial insanity and thought, "I can top that—only way more hatefully," should be fun for everybody.
The group suggested hiring as a spokesman an "extremely literate conservative African-American" who can argue that Mr. Obama misled the nation by presenting himself as what the proposal calls a "metrosexual, black Abe Lincoln."
There are two great bits about this. One, reportedly Larry Elder was up for the role of "extremely literate conservative African-American." You may know Elder as part of a triumvirate—along with Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams—who have carved out lucrative careers writing syndicated columns for newspapers who'd much rather have a black person in the photo alongside an editorial about how the Democratic Party poisons black culture with handouts, leaving indolent negroes to sit around all day, having unprotected sex or dying of congestive heart failure. He could have done awesome work.
Two, God help you if you can understand the "metrosexual, black Abe Lincoln" thing. Sure, they were both elected president after careers in Illinois, both are tall and both attempted to unite a nation riven with political differences. But "Barack Obama" is not the natural result of thinking of "Abraham Lincoln, but sort of gay-friendly-but-not-gay, no body hair—also kind of an on-the-town foodie type. Ribbed V-necks." Also, Obama's sat patiently as people from South Carolina called him a Kenyan Muslim or screamed "you lie!" at him. Abe responded to South Carolinian outbursts with the Army of the Potomac.
Still, of all responses to the scuppering of the Ricketts proposal, perhaps Matt Yglesias' is the most disheartening. As he points out, we could have had the chance to watch a rich jerk waste a lot of his own money.
Image by Jim Cooke.