Senator Joseph Lieberman almost became the Vice President of the United States in what would have been a Democratic administration. Now an independent, he speaks on behalf of John McCain, who has voted in lockstep with the Bush Administration 95 percent of the time. "The choice could not be more clear: between one candidate, John McCain, who [has] been tested in war and tried in peace, another candidate who has not. Between one candidate, John McCain, who has always put the country first, worked across party lines to get things done, and one candidate who has not. Between one candidate who’s a talker, and the other candidate who’s the leader America needs as our next President."
At least Lieberman had the decency to leave the Democratic Party. But his three-point refrain is one that an alarming number of Democrats (including one in five disaffected supporters of Hillary Clinton) seem to be echoing. First, he maintains that Obama is untested in war. It’s an oddly ironic reason for independents to vote for a Bush-backed Republican; surely, heroic military service alone isn’t a qualification, or those swing voters would have had more respect for the same in the showdown between Kerry, the veteran, and Bush, the draft dodger.
Second, it is demonstrably false that Obama has not worked across party lines; this much is a boldfaced lie. But the rhetorical force of Lieberman’s accusation lies not in what Stephen Colbert would call its "truthiness" but in its innuendo: that Obama doesn’t play well with others, that he doesn’t place America’s interests "first." What exactly does he place first, one wonders? This space is filled with the gas of right-wing shock jocks and Fox News: he places himself first, of course! He’s full of himself! Arrogant! Condescending! Elitist! If he can’t bowl with the common man, how on earth can he be Commander in Chief? He may puff himself up as a citizen of the world, but the man can’t digest homegrown grits ‘n’ gravy!
Third, we have the peculiar attempt to defame Obama as "a talker." If politicians were once valued for their ability to speak lucidly and compellingly, today significant parts of the electorate apparently delight in a President who can’t string words into a coherent thought. But being "a talker" is also code for having no substance. Its meaning is elucidated, again, by AM radio, Fox and certain parts of the blogosphere–sites whose audiences are largely white and male and number in the millions. In this world, being "a talker" is not, heaven forbid, to be confused with what brave and fearless demagogues like Sean Hannity do. Obama’s "talk" is the equivalent of being a hypnotist, a mesmerizer, a magician, a siren, a soulless malefactor who snares you in the singsong of his pretty words and mellifluous voice, then sucks out your brains while you sleep. (Talk about transference!) Recently, when denigrating Obama as a cocky-ass, crowd-pleasing "rock star" didn’t work, this line morphed into more chilling descriptions of his appeal as "fascist" and "Hitlerian."