01 November 2008

Whirlwind: Obama's Aunt

On the subject of Obama's alien aunt, Steve Benen offers what I think is a silly statement. "I have no idea why anyone would find this even remotely interesting."

To be fair to Steve, I rarely find myself in anything but agreement with his observation and analysis. That said, I find his comment decidedly in-credible.

As a nation on the eve of a momentous election, we are interested and fascinated with all things electoral. And this certainly qualifies.

Given how carefully the Obama campaign has moved throughout the paces of this campaign, I am of a mind that this either A) really is a surprise, clear out of left field, or B) the campaign had this information and knew it might come up, and made a conscious decision not to address the issue proactively. Here's the thing: she was in the book. That means, to my thinking, that she's been vetted. Does anybody in the country really believe that a campaign this well orchestrated did not know of the aunt's status? I find that hard to swallow. Obama has drawn a pretty clear line about issues of family as they arise in the campaign. And it does not appear that he and his aunt, his father's half sister, are close. Nevertheless it's family, and more importantly it's a case of human livelihood. Being deported to Kenya qualifies as a major upheaval, and probably not for the better.

Now, Steve is right that no rational person would read this story and decide that, on account of an asylum-seeking aunt kept shrouded in secrecy until the final days of the election, our country would be better off with John McCain's backward looking tax policies and obvious insensitivity to the nuances of global diplomacy. But this is not about rational behavior. This is about the media cycle and American blood lust. It's about a right-wing machine that has proven highly effective at tipping tight elections. For more on the power of the media narrative, check out this piece from Kevin Drum. Not about politics, as it happens, but very much about the media's ability to tell people what matters (and to actually influence how events fall out as a result).

I do not believe that this event alone will necessarily decide an election. Furthermore, a lot of votes are already in, so despite the media response--and the public response--this thing may prove to be a blip. Obviously, this is not a mistress or a love child, nor is it a bribery scandal or similar jaw-dropping type disaster. But a November surprise is a November surprise. It's not the content of the charge, it's the timing. And that's why Americans will be interested in this little issue.