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Right Puts Obama in Media Crosshairs

POLITICS-US: Right Puts Obama in Media Crosshairs

By Bill Berkowitz

OAKLAND, California, Apr 25 (IPS) - The unveiling this week of a new campaign advertisement by the North Carolina Republican Party -- using video of controversial remarks made by Senator Barack Obama's former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and attacking two North Carolina Democratic candidates for governor -- is a reminder that the race for the presidency will likely only get uglier as the summer goes on.

Two longtime practitioners of negative campaigning, Floyd Brown and David Bossie, have spent a significant part of their political careers making life miserable for Bill and Hillary Clinton. These days, while neither Brown nor Bossie are forsaking their anti-Clinton crusades -- now almost exclusively focused on Hillary, Obama's rival for the Democratic nomination -- they are also turning their attention to Obama.

Brown's new organisation, the National Campaign Fund -- which has launched a new website called "ExposeObama.com" -- and Bossie's group, Citizens United, intends to put the Illinois presidential hopeful in the crosshairs.

Best known for an infamous racist television advertisement that helped put the kybosh on Democratic Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis' presidential aspirations in 1988, Brown's National Campaign Fund has prepared a new TV attack ad called "Victims", which insinuates that Obama's so-called weak positions on gang violence will make him weak on dealing with terrorism.

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Brown recently told Time magazine that in addition to the National Campaign Fund, he had set up several other "front groups to fund a long-range effort to erode Obama's support", including a political action committee called the Legacy Committee, a tax-exempt organisation called Citizens for a Safe and Prosperous America and a so-called "social welfare" nonprofit called the Policy Issues Institute.

"It is absolutely critical that Obama's negatives go up with Republicans," Brown told Time. He also pointed out that he had sent copies of the ad via e-mail to between three and seven million conservatives with the hopes of raising enough money to blanket the airwaves in upcoming primaries.

Brown noted that "All of the efforts I have ever done in my life have been significantly funded. This is going to be the most Internet-intensive effort for an ad debut ever."

Brown's "Victims" ad attempts to link Obama's so-called record on crime with the war on terror. The ad relates the stories of a woman who was killed by a gang member while protecting her six-year-old daughter from gunfire; a 15-year-old boy beaten with bricks after a gang member crashed into his car; and a 14-year-old boy shot five times in the back for refusing to flash a gang hand sign.

The voice-over states: "They all died in 2001. In Chicago."

The ad points out that Obama, while in the Illinois state senate, voted against expanding the death penalty for gang-related murders. The ad ends: "When the time came to get tough, Obama chose to be weak. So the question is: Can a man so weak in the war on gangs be trusted in the war on terror?"

In its review of the ad, Time found that although Obama voted in 2001 to oppose a bill that would have expanded the use of the death penalty if the crime was done by a gang member, there was no discernable link between Obama's vote and the three deaths discussed in the ad.

"The links between Obama's vote on that issue and the deaths of three Chicago residents are indirect and tenuous, as is the further connection the ad draws between the issue of Obama's position on the death penalty and the issue of international terrorism," Time concluded.

The ExposeObama team includes Brown, who is also president of Excellentia Inc., which according to Brown's bio is "a consulting company specialising in non-profit organisational strategy, development and the marketing of ideas"; and executive director Bruce E. Hawkins, "a highly skilled political strategist" who has worked for such conservative leaders as Pat Robertson, Pat Buchanan and Mike Huckabee.

On another front, a new group called Citizens for a Safe and Prosperous America, headed by California State Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, has teamed with Brown to attack both Obama and Clinton for wanting to raise taxes.

According to DeVore, "Americans should have this information and be aware of the other extremely liberal positions Obama and Clinton hold."

David Bossie is the chairman of the board and president of Citizens United (CU) and the president of the CU-affiliated The Presidential Coalition LLC, which is described by SourceWatch, a project of the Centre for Media and Democracy, as "a Republican front group" that registered with the Internal Revenue Service as a tax-exempt political action committee in 2005.

He is also the author of the recently released book, "Hillary: The Politics of Personal Destruction", and the producer of "Hillary: The Movie", which one right-wing commentator called "The best compendium of Hillary mendacity (and at-least-near-criminality) available right now."

In 1998, Bossie was fired from his job as chief investigator for the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight -- which was investigating alleged Clinton White House campaign finance abuses -- for releasing selectively edited transcripts of former Clinton administration official Webster Hubbell's prison conversations. Hubbell served time in prison for defrauding his Little Rock, Arkansas law firm.

Bossie is also the author of a spate of books attacking Democrats including "Prince Albert: The Life and Lies of Al Gore" (2000), "Intelligence Failure: How Clinton's National Security Policy Set the Stage for 9/11" (2004), and "The Many Faces of John Kerry: Why This Massachusetts Liberal Is Wrong For America" (2004).

Bossie is now training his sights on Obama. Newsweek reported that he was putting together "material for TV spots about Obama's ties" to Bill Ayers, a Chicago professor and former member of the Weather Underground, a 1960s group that was responsible for bombing several government buildings while protesting the Vietnam War.

Questions about Obama's relationship with Ayers were raised by conservative radio and television talk show host Sean Hannity. ABC News' George Stephanopoulos asked Obama about it during the recent Obama-Clinton debate before the Pennsylvania primary.

Obama, who lives near Ayers in Chicago's Hyde Park, apparently was at an event at Ayers's house when he ran for the state Senate in 1995. He also served with Ayers on the board of a nonprofit for several years.

"Obama is aware of the acts Ayers committed when he was 18 years old and has called them 'detestable'," said Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt, adding that the senator occasionally bumps into Ayers in his neighbourhood "but has not seen him for months".

While some commentators have noted that Obama can take a punch, they have also wondered whether he could deliver one in return For the most part his campaign has tried to stay above the fray and away from attack-dog politics. He has responded to attacks only when absolutely necessary, as evidenced by his speech on racial tensions in the U.S., which was delivered after Rev. Wright's remarks had been played over and over again on cable television's 24/7 news channels.


Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His column "Conservative Watch" documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the U.S. Right.

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