Thursday, September 11, 2008

Corsi, Swift Boat Corsair

Unfit for publication
In his bestselling book about Barack Obama, Jerome Corsi provides few facts to support his outrageous claims

Ian Williams, Wednesday September 10 2008 19:00 BST

Jerome Corsi, PhD is the Lord High Admiral of the Swift-boat Armada now heading against Barack Obama. Still doing the hornpipe over his success sinking John Kerry, since his book Unfit for Command, plus a few million in conservative foundation dollars helped torpedo the Democratic candidate below the water-line even before he noticed, Corsi has now launched Obama Nation into the New York Times bestseller lists.

Generally only dubious scientists, quack doctors and freaky cosmologists dress themselves in a little brief acronymic authority by putting their titles after their name on the cover of books. Corsi repeats his (apparently genuine) PhD on every single verso page heading.

Nor does the bestseller list mean best read, as the far-too-discreet little dagger next to Obama Nation and several other current conservative hatchet jobs indicates. It means that there have been bulk purchases from bookshops. If a foundation wants to give away free books, it can get a bulk wholesale rate directly from the publishers. Paying retail for bulk buys is more expensive, but it's an effective way to puff them onto the bestseller list.

Even so, I do appreciate writers like Kitty Kelly, when they scrutinise the toe-jam on the clay feet of the great, good and royal, so I tried to appreciate Corsi's opus as an example of that genre. Obama is not perfect, after all, and it always helps to temper optimism with realism.

However, I almost gave up reading during the introduction, when Corsi referred to his extensive "footnoting all references so readers can determine for themselves the truth and validity of the factual claims." Truth and validity, a tautology, elides into an oxymoron: fact and claims are different animals outside the faith-based universe. He refers to Obama's "pattern of voting on the far left on a wide range of policy issues," which is only true if you consider Margaret Thatcher to be a charter member of the Weathermen.

Even more risibly, Corsi suggests that Obama would "lead the United States in a costly and self-destructive direction, both at home and abroad. … We would be a militarily weakened and economically diminished nation". Presumably, a less faith-based Corsi might note that his hypothetical state of the nation under Obama is the actual state after two terms of George Bush.

Corsi avers: "Growing numbers of largely Hispanic illegal immigrants, many of them still citizens of their home countries … live in our midst with no firm purpose or requirement to become American citizens." I suspect that most of them are unaware that US passports are on offer. This is the voice of prejudice that in one breath condemns immigrants for both taking our jobs while living on welfare!

Corsi expands his almost limitless ability to have his cake and eat it when he cites Wall Street Journal and Fox consultant John Fund, who complains that Obama beat Alan Keyes, an "unserious" GOP candidate, to get in the Senate. This is true, but Keyes and Corsi himself were recently trying to get the Constitution party nomination for the presidency. Unseriousness is clearly contagious.

On the other hand, Corsi is not always completely wrong. His analysis of Hillary Clinton's mistake in using the race card is quite accurate, even though his claim that her "campaign attacks against Barack Obama legitimised many of the lines of inquiry explored in the first two sections of this book," is a stretch. Her campaign no more justifies his "lines of inquiry" than his book retrospectively koshers her cynical use of the race card.

Occasionally Corsi asks legitimate questions, but he consistently refuses to accept legitimate answers, and it would appear that his sole purpose in examining some of the weirder myths of the blogosphere is to keep them afloat. For example, he says magnanimously: "I accept Obama's statement that he is a Christian, but take exception to the claim that Obama was not introduced to Islam as a child." But who made that claim? Obama's team said that he had never been a Muslim, not that he not been "introduced to Islam" the same way that I was "introduced to Anglicanism" when dragooned to Church for the school Founder's Day service.

With spurious academic authority he declares: "We have already established that Obama wrote the autobiography to hide key points." Oh no, we haven't. Obama's books probably do suffer from overhyping, but he was explicit that these are not autobiographical chronicles.

So when Obama says he used marijuana, it does not earn him brownie points for being unevasively un-Clintonian, or indeed un-Bushian. Rather it is a cynical political prophylactic against the chance of him being revealed.

Corsi joined in hounding Obama to disown the Rev Jeremiah Wright, then attacking his disloyalty to his old mentor when he did. McCarthy meets Kevin Bacon, as acquaintances of acquaintances are marshalled and alleged to be communist or Muslim, in that modern form of conservative colour-blindness where red and green are indistinguishable. People like Saul Alinsky (the guru of community organisers) died never meeting Obama. But some people he knew did, and so … .

Perhaps most bizarre, if you are not attuned to the conservative evangelical fixation on Kenya, is Corsi's depiction of Obama's involvement there. For the rest of the world, an authoritarian tribalist government fixed an election but was forced to compromise with the democratic winner in the face of riots. To the evangelical right, despite "credible signs of electoral fraud" Kenyan President Kibaki is a hero, not to be overthrown by the mere casting of ballots.

In Corsi's narrative, Obama's Luo tribal paternity led him to intervene on behalf of a "communist" (incidentally Anglican) Odinga, who was furthermore a Muslim stooge pledged to introduce Sharia law in an overwhelmingly Christian country. Obama "could claim to be a Kenyan citizen" – the same way, presumably that McCain could claim to a Panamian citizenship or the Clintons and Kennedys Irish, or indeed any Jewish politician could claim Israeli citizenship.

It is typical of Corsi's use of sources that he quotes Mainu Wararu, "respected international correspondent", on the fears that Kikuyu have about Obama in the White House. However he skips Waruru's conclusion: "This attitude is running counter to views of majority of Kenyans who are excited by every victory by the US democrat frontrunner and are praying day and night for more victories for this 'son of Kenya'."

Incidentally, applying his own methodology that every accusation is true unless definitively disproven, I checked with Notre Dame professor Daniel Myers, the custodian of the archives of the Lemberg Centre for the Study of Violence, which Corsi claims to have worked with. There is no record of his presence there. Of course, this does not prove that he wasn't – but he does not give his victim the same indulgence.

Corsi's smearing of fact, supposition and slander into a quantum slime really made me wish I had worn rubber gloves when reading. Nonetheless, Obama and his team should really read this book, even if it seems like turning over a stone to study the things that scurry from underneath. They do not need an enigma machine to plot the enemy fleet's manoeuvres. It's all here.

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