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The Obama Nation
Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality, by Jerome Corsi
(Click for Amazon book review)
BOOK REVIEW by OnTheIssues.org:
If you've ever listened to conservative Talk Radio's and wondered, "Where do they come up with this stuff?", well, this book is it. There are other sources, but this book is one of the key source materials for attacks on Obama. That's because the author, Jerome Corsi, wrote the anti-Kerry book that provided the fodder which killed Kerry's candidacy. Corsi co-authored "Unfit For Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry", which dominated the presidential campaign in 2004. Corsi and the conservative Talk Radio hosts were hoping for another knockout blow with this book in 2008. "Obama Nation" failed where the Swift Boat attack succeeded for three major reasons.
First, Kerry was susceptible to the Swift Boat attack because it attacked his strength: Kerry based his campaign on his military service and "Unfit for Command" diminished the importance of his service. "Obama Nation" attacks Obama primarily for his associations: like Rev. Wright; Bill Ayres; Tony Rezko; and Saul Alinsky. But Obama didn't base his campaign on his associations, so the public viewed this attack as peripheral to the campaign.
Second, Kerry failed to respond to the Swift Boat attacks, while Obama promptly responded. Yes, each of the "guilt-by-association" attacks on Obama dominated the news for a week -- but then they faded away. Kerry's attack should have done the same -- but Kerry never responded, so it never faded away. Kerry ignored the Swift Boaters until it was too late. Obama learned that lesson, and responded to each attack with a substantive speech in which he not only explained his side of the story, but also changed his behavior to address the attack (e.g., he quit Rev. Wright's church).
Third, the "Swift Boat" attack rang true at its core, while the "Obama Nation" attack did not. Neither attack was literally true -- both of Corsi's books distorted the facts and presented both candidates in the worst possible light. But the subtext of the "Swift Boat" attack was that Kerry answered questions about his Vietnam record with shades of truth, and by extension Kerry answered every question with shades of truth. That core attack felt true to the public. The subtext of the "Obama Nation" attack is that Obama's associates are corrupt, criminal, and/or anti-American, and by extension that Obama's presidential administration would be corrupt, criminal, and/or anti-American. That just did not ring true to the public. The title of the book is a play on the term "abomination" -- Corsi says that Obama's presidency would be an abomination of corrupt criminal anti-Americanism -- and the public simply rejected that opinion.
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Ok, so what are the specifics of the "Obama Nation" attack? Anyone reading campaign news in the summer and autumn of 2008 is familiar with most of them:
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Corsi makes sure to emphasize that he has a PhD, by saying so on top of every even-numbered page. But his emphasis begs the reader to question the academic standards that Corsi employs in this book -- alas, those standards are pretty low. In a normal opinion book, non-academic standards are acceptable -- but because Corsi claims his PhD as his primary credential, he then should apply academic standards.
The most important academic standard is to use "primary sources," which means citing original speakers. A "secondary source" means, for example, citing a newspaper article which cites the original speaker. A "tertiary source" means citing an opinion piece based on newspaper articles. At OnTheIssues, we try to use mostly primary sources (speech transcripts; book excerpts; and so on) and sometimes use secondary sources; but we never use tertiary sources unless no other sources are available. OnTheIssues does not claim to live up to academic standards -- but Corsi does, but routinely cites tertiary sources.
For example, on pp. 199-200, Corsi associates Obama with Father Pfegler, whom Corsi labels "a Radical Catholic Priest." The evidence of Pfegler's radicalism is cited from "TheCapitalFaxBlog.com, a well-read Chicago blog." Citing a blog is fine for casual conversation, but not for a PhD-level work. Hence the reader feels misled by Corsi's mixing of academic credentials with non-academic citations. More importantly, the reader wonders why Corsi did not investigate enough to find the original speaker -- and must conclude that at best, Corsi was too rushed to do research, or at worst, that Corsi could not actually locate the original material.
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Overall, this is an important book because the "Swift Boat" attack was so successful. (But few people actually read that book either!) The primary readers of both attacks are the strongest anti-Democratic partisans. The rest of us will hear the details through conservative Talk Radio hosts endlessly -- even after the 2008 election!
-- Jesse Gordon, jesse@OnTheIssues.org, September 2008
Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality, by Jerome Corsi.