On the liberal side of the American political world, one of the lingering horrors of the McCarthy era is “guilt by association.” Certainly that was the lesson I, a young liberal, took away from teachings about that era. As I learned it, it wasn’t that the HUAC hearings were aimed at discovering genuine Communist infiltration into the military, weapons development and politics. Instead, in the intense (and irrational) anti-Communist hysteria of the period, the hearings were aimed at discovering who talked to whom.
For that reason, as I was taught, if you were a victim of this witch hunt, your actual political beliefs didn’t matter. Instead, it was who you knew that was the determining factor in whether you would be destroyed. That is, even if you weren’t a Communist, if your best friend was, you were guilty by association.
This phrase, “guilt by association,” has been running through my head a lot lately in this latest election. The MSM tried tarring John McCain very hard because Pastor John Hagee, who is a friend of Israel (good), but not a friend of Catholics (bad), is a supporter and because McCain has not repudiated that support. In MSM land, this was obviously a sign that McCain is anti-Catholic, although he’s never given any indication by word or deed that this is so.
This “guilt by association” tendency isn’t limited to the MSM, of course. When Ron Paul’s candidacy looked as if it had legs, a lot of people in the blogosphere were very upset by the fact that White Supremacists were latching on to him. They found even more upsetting the fact that he didn’t disavow these people. The nail in the coffin, though — and something that distinguishes Paul from McCain — is the fact that the White Supremacists weren’t just picking up on subliminal Paulian code that appealed to them, they were recognizing one of their own.
All of which gets me to the increasing number of stories about Barack Obama’s connection to a lot of unsavory (from my point of view) people: Jeremiah Wright, anti-Semite and anti-American; Tony Rezko, probable criminal; and William Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn, unrepentant, homegrown Leftist terrorists.
With each new revelation, the defense that both Obama and his followers offer is that Obama can associate with these people without either agreeing with or trying to advance their politics. In other words, Obama shouldn’t be brought down by that old McCarthyite bugaboo of “guilt by association.”
Obama made this point explicitly when he likened his friendship with Ayers to his friendly relationship with Tom Coburn. Since we know that Obama, despite his friendly relationship with Coburn, does not share Coburn’s extreme pro-Life stance (abortion should be illegal and abortionists should then be tried as murderers), why in the world should we assume that Obama, despite his friendly relationship with Ayers, Dohrn, Reszko and Wright shares their terrorist, anti-Semitic, anti-American, criminal viewpoints? Obama’s problem, he and his supports argue, if there is in fact a problem, is that he’s just too nice a guy. [Update: Here's a nice Dean Barnett piece on Obama's indiscriminate friendliness.]
I think Obama’s problem is bigger than just being indiscriminately friendly. Unlike McCain, who had not courted either Hagee specifically or anti-Catholics generally, Obama has actively courted people with noxious attitudes, and he’s courted a lot of them. In other words, Jeremiah Wright isn’t just a powerful pastor for whose political support Obama is grateful, since it will throw a lot of votes his way. Instead, Obama has had a close affiliation with him for more than twenty years — Obama has sought him out and explicitly identified him as a mentor. This is not a casual acquaintance with someone who has some interesting and, perhaps, distasteful eccentricities; this is someone whose intellectual influence Obama actively sought.
The same holds true for Obama’s association with the Ayers/Dohrns. A rising politician can’t always choose his fans, but Obama has had a much closer relationship than that and, on Obama’s side, it’s been one in which he or his wife has sought them out. After all, it was in their home that he launched his political career, and it was his wife who intentionally put them together on panels that would advance that career. Obama wasn’t just be a nice guy, friendly to random supporters; he was courting them. In the political world, one doesn’t go the extra mile to court someone unless one feels that there is a common cause.
Obama himself might challenge my argument by saying “But I didn’t know that Wright was anti-Semitic and anti-American [presumably having slept through all of Wright's sermons and tossed his newsletters]; and I didn’t know that Ayers and Dohrn were domestic terrorists [since I am ignorant of recent history and never bothered to listen to anything the two of them are still boasting about now]; and I had no idea Rezko was a crook [because I think it's normal to get sweetheart deals on valuable property when I'm a politician who can be of use to the person throwing the deal my way]. I’m innocent. I knew nothing. [A wonderful new use of the Sargent Schultz defense.]”
Even if Obama’s “I know nothing” defense is true (and it’s a very worrisome defense from someone who claims the intelligence and acumen to be leader of the free world), I still don’t think it changes the fact that we have to view him with suspicion because of those who are drawn to him. Even if he doesn’t embrace them, why do they embrace him?
It’s apparent that Obama’s political message — the real message, not just the vapid “change” stuff — is appealing to people who hate America, who hate Israel, who hate Jews, who hate capitalism and who hate to abide by pesky little things like laws. No matter what he says about them, or how he tries to disassociate himself from them, they continue to view him as a kindred spirit. And as a handy dandy chart on both Obama and Hillary demonstrates, quite a few of them see Hillary as a fellow-traveler too. (I know of no such chart that can be made for McCain, but please correct me if I’m wrong.)
No matter what Hillary’s and Obama’s best intentions are regarding terrorists and America haters, they’re sending a message that’s resonating with that crowd. And if it’s resonating with the hate America crowd, no matter how Hillary or Obama try to disavow seeking that crowd out, their message must be analyzed, in part, by considering their most defended fans.
UPDATE: Here’s another example of an unsavory character who feels that an Obama presidency will best serve his political ends. Whether or not Obama sought him out his irrelevant. This person’s desire to associate with Obama is significant in itself, and Obama’s passivity here doesn’t lessen what is, in my eyes, ideological guilt by association.
Oh, and another example just crossed my radar here.