As campaign politics in America lurches, zombie-like, deeper and deeper into the muck, with Hillary Clinton desperately flogging the Reverend Wright "scandal" in all its idiotic glory, it's time to study the true masters of smear-ology -- the supermarket tabloids. Here, in the sick, teeming id of America, tales of lust, drunkeness, treason and murder are laid out weekly for the delectation of short-attention-span shoppers, without the boring pro-forma pretense of actual policy debate; and here we can view, uncensored, the understory of modern American politics.
And it's beginning to seem that these fish-wrapper newspapers are eerie predictors of the narratives we can expect to see in the so-called mainstream media.
Throughout the Clinton administration, of course, these rags ran wild with lurid stuff that made the Monica Lewinsky story read like Marie Osmond's autobiography -- Hillary's supposed "Lesbian Trysts!!!" (multiple exclamation-points being, in the tabloids as well as in Huffington Post comments, a sure index of low mental wattage), and conspiracy tales about Vince Foster's murder, etc. etc. ad nauseum. Both Clintons were basically portrayed as full-time serial killers who stopped their Bonnie-and-Clyde antics only long enough to grab loose change from the streets before seeking out new flesh to slake their carnal appetites. Once Bush was installed as president, the stories became noticeably less electric, focusing as they did on the not-real-exciting question of whether or not he was back on the sauce, although an occasional Mile-High Club fling with Condie Rice on Air Force One was hinted at here and there.
More recently, though, the National Enquirer in particular -- which has grown steadily less readable, and credible, since it stopped running stories about 1,000-year-old aliens drinking the blood of Midwestern cattle -- has zeroed in on two candidates in particular, and it's fascinating to see who they are:
John Edwards and Barack Obama.
While Edwards was still a feasible candidate, the Enquirer fought hard to create a scandal over some supposed romantic liason with an attractive (female) staffer, a story made slightly more appealing for them since it came in the wake of his wife's tragic illness.
And just two weeks ago, while a less-respected tabloid (you thought there couldn't BE a less-respected tabloid?) called The Globe was trumpeting some kind of Hillary gal-pal love-crisis (Bill Says: Cut It Out!), the Enquirer launched an attack on Barack Obama that was a textbook study in smear-ific journalism.
CLOSE FRIENDSHIP WITH TERRORIST! SCREAMING MATCHES WITH WIFE OVER OTHER WOMEN! MADE FORTUNE WITH ACCUSED FELON!
Lest you be tempted to seek out this issue in some local 7-11 Dumpster, don't bother -- it was a classic bait-and-switch job. Hard as they tried to hit the "terrorist" thing -- running the infamous "Bedouin-garb photo" right beside it -- the story only said that Obama knows William Ayers, a non-Arab, former SDS radical. The accused felon, of course, was Tony Rezko. And the "other women" don't exist, despite the headline; they couldn't dredge up an actual affair, so they said only that Michelle gets frustrated when Barack spends too much time talking to women on the campaign trail. Whoa!!!
But the funniest--and most sinister--passage is worth quoting in full:
"The New York Post even reported that some internet 'posts' even claim that Obama is an Iranian agent sent to take over the U.S. Government and wage war against Sunni Muslims."
Interesting sourcing there. "The New York Post even" (note the grammatical hyper-drama there: EVEN!) "reported" (no, it's not actually "reporting," but...oh, forget it) "that Obama is..." blah-blah-blah. Of course, any Huffington Post reader can reliably report that "some posts" even!!! claim!!! a lot of things that don't connect to any known version of reality.
What's truly strange is that, considering how little juice the cover-headlines ultimately delivered, the Enquirer story buried its lead: this gay-choir-master murder scandal in Chicago, which is too byzantine for me to follow, but which gave them a chance to say there are "rumors" about "Obama's sexuality" -- which in turn feeds into the whole Larry Sinclair thing. Now, Larry Sinclair -- for those of you who shop in upscale markets and have been fortunate enough not to be exposed to him yet -- is a junkie career criminal who claims to have gotten high and had sex with Obama, and though he's obviously completely demented and has actually failed a lie-detector test, his story has incredible traction among that section of our citizenry that thinks the Swift Boat attackers were too liberal and principled.
Sick, absurd, revolting, hilarious -- it's all of that, and worse: it's what American voters are actually talking about. Millions of them will be choosing their candidate soon, not on questions like how to stop the horrific carnage in Iraq, or how to protect the children of America, but on fantasies about the sex-lives of the candidates and other insanely peripheral issues. And at a point when the Clinton campaign in particular has openly admitted to a take-no-prisoners, all's-fair-in-love-and-war, "kitchen sink" strategy, one has to wonder: how far is too far? How kitchen-sink is too kitchen-sink?
To be specific: I read today that "a key owner of the Enquirer is a prominent New York investment banker and one of Hillary Clinton's key backers, Roger Altman. Altman was an official in the first Clinton administration, and his name is often mentioned as a possible Clinton Treasury Secretary." If this is true, shouldn't Hillary publicly disavow the specious and hideous Obama piece right away? And if it's not, I'd like to be told: it would be a relief. And in this season of growing ugliness, we could all use some relief.
Because more and more it seems like today's Enquirer "story" will be tomorrow's political reality.