Previews of Coming Attractions

By Sean Carroll | February 20, 2008 1:18 pm

I don’t know if anyone else has noticed, but the Democratic primary contest features a woman running against an African-American, which doesn’t happen very often. A situation like this raises the possibility, just a little bit, that attitudes born of sexism or racism might come into play. And they have! Although, by any fair accounting, Hillary Clinton has gotten by far the worse of it thus far — it’s a bit easier to be blatantly misogynist in a mainstream kind of way than it is to be racist. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, all by himself, is responsible for enough sexism to warrant several Congressional investigations.

But don’t be disappointed, those of you who were looking forward to an even uglier fight. We still have the general election coming up! In which the right-wing punditocracy, having accommodated themselves to the horror of a McCain candidacy on their own side, will be able to turn their venom on the Democratic candidate full-time. And it’s increasingly likely that the candidate will be Barack Obama. (Notwithstanding the Clinton campaign’s attempts to change the rules mid-stream.) And it will be ugly. Ugly ugly ugly.

As a warm-up salvo, consider Lisa Schiffren of the National Review Online. That would be the web presence of the National Review, leading journal of the conservative movement. Ms. Schiffren has deployed her powers of logic to deduce something that the country surely deserves to know — Barack Obama is a Communist! And here would be the evidence:

Obama and I are roughly the same age. I grew up in liberal circles in New York City — a place to which people who wished to rebel against their upbringings had gravitated for generations. And yet, all of my mixed race, black/white classmates throughout my youth, some of whom I am still in contact with, were the product of very culturally specific unions. They were always the offspring of a white mother, (in my circles, she was usually Jewish, but elsewhere not necessarily) and usually a highly educated black father. And how had these two come together at a time when it was neither natural nor easy for such relationships to flourish? Always through politics. No, not the young Republicans. Usually the Communist Youth League. Or maybe a different arm of the CPUSA. But, for a white woman to marry a black man in 1958, or 60, there was almost inevitably a connection to explicit Communist politics.

Arguments don’t get much more air-tight than that. Obama, born in Hawaii of a mother from Kansas and a father from Kenya, is presumptively Communist because Lisa Schiffren’s mixed-race acquaintances from New York City in the 1960’s were inevitably the spawn of shifty black Communists who seduced nice Jewish girls. Logic! Admittedly, the focus wanders somewhat, as Ms. Schiffren is not quite sure which horror to dwell on, as Belle Waring notes:

The truly beautiful thing about this is that it incoherently wavers between two poles of repulsive slander: is it Communist Negroes having sex with our white women? Or are Communist Jewesses subverting black Americans who, patriotic though modestly ill-treated, would have been able to resist had the party not offered them the tempting fruits of miscegenation?

You might, if you were a generous person who wanted to think the best of the National Review, hope that Ms. Schiffren doesn’t take her chain of deduction too too far. You might be disappointed.

Of course, since the Soviet Union itself no longer exists, it’s an open question what it means practically to have been politically mentored by an official Communist. Ideologically, the implications are clearer. …

It was, of course, an explicit tactic of the Communist party to stir up discontent among American blacks, with an eye toward using them as the leading edge of the revolution. To be sure, there was much to be discontented about, for black Americans, prior to the civil-rights revolution. To their credit, of course, most black Americans didn’t buy the commie line — and showed more faith in the possibilities of democratic change than in radical politics, and the results on display in Moscow.

Time for some investigative journalism about the Obama family’s background, now that his chances of being president have increased so much.

And it’s not just the fever dream of a single maverick columnist. “Accuracy in Media” (sic) has dropped the bombshell that — one of Obama’s father’s friends was a Communist! And from this we are empowered to hint darkly that there must be some nefarious forces behind his popularity.

Obama’s communist connection adds to mounting public concern about a candidate who has come out of virtually nowhere, with a brief U.S. Senate legislative record, to become the Democratic Party frontrunner for the U.S. presidency. In the latest Real Clear Politics poll average, Obama beats Republican John McCain by almost four percentage points.

(One wonders why, if public concern is so obviously mounting, he’s beating McCain so badly?) But we’re not just dealing with some musty old history here. Evidence that Obama’s dark skin tone has a pinkish tinge to it is also to be found in the legislative record, AIM goes on to discover!

AIM recently disclosed that Obama has well-documented socialist connections, which help explain why he sponsored a “Global Poverty Act” designed to send hundreds of billions of dollars of U.S. foreign aid to the rest of the world, in order to meet U.N. demands. The bill has passed the House and a Senate committee, and awaits full Senate action.

Can you believe your eyes? The man wants to fight poverty, even in non-American parts of the world! I suspect we’ll be singing L’Internationale at his inauguration, where his left hand will be resting on a copy of Das Kapital. His right hand will, of course, be on the Koran, and in his back pocket he’ll be carrying Mein Kampf, because he’s also a fascist. Mixed races, mixed ideologies.

Barack Obama, leading edge of the Communist/Muslim/Nazi revolution. Time for some investigative journalism!

It’s going to be a long campaign.

  • Scott Palmer

    (( National Review, leading journal of the conservative movement ))

    One point of correction. National Review no longer has anything to do with the conservative movement. It was long ago captured by “neoconservatives,” recycled leftists who are hostile to American notions of limited government, separation of powers, peaceful international relations, respect for individual rights, and sensible economic policies.

    I speak as a former movement conservative who worked on Capitol Hill during the Reagan administration (“former” only because the conservative movement hardly exists anymore).

  • Z

    Nature is reporting Barack Obama may have new proposals for NASA and space exploration.

    We may have the first Sol’s first communist/Muslim/Nazi imperialist! My fellow titanians and martians, vote John McCain!

    The national review is bonkers.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    I don’t know if anyone else has noticed, but the Democratic primary contest features a woman running against an African-American, which doesn’t happen very often.

    What this country needs is a black lesbian atheist in the White House.

  • Elliot

    I hate to say I am not surprised at this at all. You know that the right, Rush Limbaugh, Bill Bennett, Karl Rove, and friends are deeply disappointed that they can’t run a negative campaign against Hillary.

    So they will portray Obama as a neophyte who is going to have lunch with Osama bin Laden on his first day in office when he should be memorizing the nuclear launch sequences.

    While this is despicable from the right, it is at least expected. What is disturbing is the rhetoric from both McCain and Clinton camps sounds very much the same at this juncture.

    Watch the democratic debate tomorrow. And count how many times Hillary uses “commander and chief on day one” in her answers.

    In my opinion this is a historic campaign by Obama and he speaks to a nation that is simply tired of being afraid. McCain and to some extent Clinton speak to peoples fears. Obama speaks to people’s hopes and dreams.

    I hope the better side of America triumphs.


  • Elliot

    By the way, I forgot to say that Lisa’s article is highly reminiscent of the writings of former American Nazi party leader George Lincoln Rockwell in it disgusting innuendo about mixed race relationships.

    I find it as offensive as anything I have read recently. She should be ashamed.


  • Eugene

    I read this kind of insane ramblings in all the time. Why pay money to NRO when you can read this stuff for free!

  • mike

    Let me first declare my support of Obama for president. Last time I posted, I was accused of being a Ron Paul supporter?!?!

    I don’t think this is really about race. I am pretty sure that neocon magazines would have been happy to call any Democrat front runner a communist, be he/she black, white, Latino, or anything else. I would be surprised if anyone other than extreme right wing crazies try to bring race into the debate.

  • Cynthia

    There’s no doubt that the neocons have given conservatives a bad name!

  • Sean

    “Whenever I saw a black man marry a white woman, it was under the influence of Communism” isn’t about race? Innuendos can be about more than one thing at once.

    When Bill Clinton downplayed Obama’s win in South Carolina as “Well, Jesse Jackson won there, too,” it was also about race. It’s not just the right wing crazies, although they will undoubtedly bring it to another level.

  • Matt

    Whew. After a brief stint as a target of his ire (for posting pro ESP research comments in previous posts), I am very relieved to once again be on the same side of Sean’s outrage. Damn, stupid people suck! Wooooh!!

  • Sam Gralla

    “Mixed races, mixed ideologies…” brilliant 😉

  • anonymous

    People like her can write what they do because people like you repost parts of it and drive traffic to the original site. You have not only planted the idea that Schiffren was a sensation-seeking [deleted], but you have now spread the offensive idea to all your readers. Your readers may all think it’s crap, but Schiffren and her publishers should not be rewarded by even a single hit driven from what you posted on your site.

    If it’s stupid and offensive, don’t repeat it!

  • daisy rose

    Who said – if you are not a communist at 20 you have no heart and if you are a communist at thirty you have no brain.

  • fh

    “Obama speaks to people’s hopes and dreams.”

    So he does, he moves people deeply, but does he have deep analysis and understanding of the problems to match? Does he have ideas and solutions as well? It’s kind of hard to tell, especially when following from the outside.

    Besides the current level of isms being invoked around (also disappointingly, by the Clinton campaign), what has been a constant surprise to me has been the level of vitriolic hate spewed against Clinton as person. From the left as well as from the right. Her policies barely justify this, I had no idea that she (and her husband) were that divisive in the US.

  • Neil B.

    Right-wingers have often complained about the “smear” of lumping them in with the KKK etc. Well, maybe over the top, but this race-baiting trash from the dextroskank Lisa Schiffren is about as awful as it gets.

    There’s another bum rap Obama is getting, not only from obvious rightist propaganda outlets like Rush, Hannity and Krauthammer (he clearly has high enough IQ to know better) but from dopey enabler clunks like Robert Samuelson (you know, the type Brad DeLong likes to skewer when he talks of how little time the NYT or WaPo has, or at least, deserves to.) That is the trope that Obama is shallow and devoid of policy, just a messianic figure who gives inspiring, thrill-up-the-leg inspiring speeches leavened with empty mantras of change and saving the world. Well, that ironically displays the very charge it makes, since Obama has well described policy proposals in depth (such as right on his website, that Rushannity et al can easily check on.) One set of his proposals involves credit card rules. When you read it over, you realize that the real reason most of the plutohacks don’t like Obama is the very fact that he does have specific policies, and the ones that they are.
    Last, Hillary lost it for me when she came out against raising the FICA income level cap.

    Here the great Matt Yglesias talks about and links to Obama’s policy papers on this. Some quotes below. See the juicy last one about paying off the higher-interest loans first – incredible, that the CC companies could ever get away with not letting customers decide which portion to allocate payments to. Good comments too.

    “….a lot of appeal:”

    * Ban Unilateral Changes: Currently, credit card companies can unilaterally change the terms of a credit card agreement at any time for any reason with only a 15-day notice to the consumer. Barack Obama will ban these unilateral changes in credit card agreements unless companies have obtained written consent from consumers and have followed the rules and terms of the agreement.
    * Apply Interest Rate Increases Only to Future Debt: Credit card companies often apply increased interest rates to both new debt incurred by the cardholder, as well as previously incurred debt. Barack Obama will require increased interest rates to apply only to future credit card debt, and not to debt incurred prior to the increase.
    * Prohibit Interest on Fees: Credit card companies often charge interest on transaction fees, such as late fees or paying a bill by telephone. Barack Obama will prohibit credit card issuers from charging interest on transaction fees.
    * Prohibit “Universal Defaults”: “Universal defaults” are a practice in which a credit card company raises an individual’s interest rate based on failure to pay a different creditor on time. Barack Obama will prohibit this practice.
    * Require Prompt and Fair Crediting of Cardholder Payments: Barack Obama will require credit card issuers to apply payments first to the credit card balance with the highest rate of interest and to minimize finance charges.

  • Neil B.

    Daisy rose, it is one of those “fake quotes”, attributed to Winston Churchill. But it has been shown there is no proof he ever said it. A good book on such quotes is They Never Said It

  • H2o

    You said what we say to friends..Some of my ex-in-laws would have kill me if I said what you dared to say here…

    They still believe in keeping guns under their pillows…They believe in having “A King of the Household” (the man of the house). They believe in being “re-born…” and in AMWAY (pyramid sales). They also believe in the supremacy of a certain race (white…of course). They also believe that the best president is a man that goes to war…for the sake of DEMOCRACY!They believe the US can save the world! (If only NATURE would cooperate with us…Maybe we could then…)

    Mixed races, mixed ideologies…” Obama ….Suicide – Suicide…for the USA – In fact really crazy!

    You wrote a brillant piece here! Thank you for putting into words what needed to be said…This is 2008!

    How are your in-laws reacting to these words…They are more open than my were I trust!

  • Lawrence B. Crowell

    This is fairly reprehensible, and the Republicans have little to offer but fear and vituperations. After all they owe their positions to Rush Limbaugh who got filthy rich by spewing hatred to millions.

    Obama is probably able to handle this. He is not of the standard African American stock. His father is Kenyan, and in fact I know someone from the same tribe (Luai) Obama’s father came from. Africans are a completely different kettle of fish, and the black civil rights leaders have voiced a measure of consternation over Obama — they can’t figure him out quite right.

    This will make for an interesting show, to say the least.

    Lawrence B. Crowell

  • James

    The beautiful irony is that many of the original Neocons were themselves communists in the most literal sense. For instance, Irving Kristol, often called the founder of the Neocon movement, was a Trotskyist and even a member of the Fourth International. See this.

  • eric gisse

    *raises hand*

    How is communism relevant?

  • Lawrence B. Crowell

    Communism is relevant as a source of bogeymen. Communism is moribund for the most part, but it is s code word that gets some people motivated. It is a way of conjuring up fears in order to manipulate people, which BTW works very well!

    I know someone who thinks anything to the left of Gengis Khan is Communism. Some people just think this way, and other like to exploit it.

    Lwrence B. Crowell

  • Richard

    After Clinton lost the Iowa primary, our supposedly progressive newspaper in Madison, Wisconsin, The Capital Times (and formerly known as the Crap Times in the 60s), ran a political cartoon depicting Hillary and Bill sitting at a table with Hillary saying that she’s sending out the monkeys, while flying monkeys were drawn heading out the window. This obvious reference to The Wicked Witch of the West was one of the lowest and most sickening sexist attacks that I have yet seen in this campaign. And my mother keeps referring to Hillary as “the bitch”. I am so disgusted. We are little better here than the religious police in Saudi Arabia.

    And the Obamas? Kid gloves.

  • tacitus

    I am getting very tired of these right-wingers who are too scared to look under their beds at night in case they find yet another bogeyman lurking there. Obama is right to denounce the politics of fear, which is all that these Communist/Muslim/Fascist slurs are part of. The degree of paranoia and fear in the neocon circles has paralyzed this country since 9/11 and led to some shockingly abysmal decisions.

    I’ve come to realize that all this talk of invading Iran, nuking Mecca, string up all criminals, “if I’d have been at the latest school shooting I’d have taken his punk ass out in one shot” etc. is just a front to hide pathological insecurities that manifest themselves in finding imaginary monsters wherever they look. Chickenhawks was and is right on the money, but it doesn’t just apply to their foreign policy ethos, it pervades everything they do and say.

    The same paranoid NRO Corner are now talking about Obama’s messianic tendencies, so it won’t be long before all those quivering conservative Christians will be quaking in their boots as he is finally unmasked as the real Antichrist.

  • Haelfix

    Obama has beautiful speeches, but his policy positions and voting record are pretty standard run of the mill democrat platform. I’m not sure why everyone expects something other than just another democrat as president (and thats fine if thats your stance on things). Some of the hysteria is quite bizarre frankly. When it comes down to it, Obama or Hillary or Bill (if he could run again) would probably be more or less identical in their policy decisions.

    By contrast McCain is quite atypical for a republican president. He’s fundamentally much more to the left than we are used too seeing. You’d have to go back quite a long ways to find a candidate in the same centrist mold, particulalry from the right.

  • Elliot

    McCain centrist? He thinks we may be in Iraq for 100 years.

    He is however somewhat more committed to fiscal sanity the Bushco. In fact he voted against the Bush tax cuts he now supports. I think this is going to be a big issue in the general. Sort of like Kerry being against the war and then for it.

    Like the old saying goes: “There ain’t nothing in the middle of the road but a double yellow line and dead armadillos”


  • onymous

    McCain is quite atypical for a republican president. He’s fundamentally much more to the left than we are used too seeing.

    The idea that a candidate who supports long-term occupation of Iraq, who has joked about bombing Iran, who wants to appoint more judges like Scalia and Alito, and who is pro-torture except when he finds it rhetorically useful to be anti-torture can be called “more to the left” says something really depressing about American politics.

  • hardheaded liberal

    Daisy (13) & Neil B. (18):

    The quote attributed to Winston Churchill is usually stated as, “A man who is not a socialist at [20…or so] has no heart, and the man who is not a conservative at 40 has no brain.” I don’t know whether Churchill ever said anything remotely like this, but the attribution to him comes easily because he was quite radical for British politics in his early 20’s, and then switched to the Conservative Party before he was 40. In other words, the quote is a summary justification of Churchill’s personal political journey, whether or not Winston ever spoke the words himself.

  • Haelfix

    The occupation of Iraq has nothing fundamentally to do with if you are right or to the left, other than random party platform. For instance the right was against it in Great Britian, whereas much of the left was for Tony Blair.

    McCain was against the incursion (or rather skeptical) of it to begin with if that means anything -shrug- Moreover he was one of the few R’s who is vocally anti torture, so I don’t know, we have some differing information.

  • Roman

    Haelifix @ 24 – spot on.
    Leaving McCain alone – anybody knows what “change” we can expect from Obama. No, seriously – will it be more like Germany, Sweden or Canada?

  • Neil B.

    Roman – see what I pulled from Obama’s proposals in post #15. BTW Europe is doing well enough, especially considering they have less resources relative to population than we do (which won’t last for long, and then we’ll be even worse off.) Despite put-downs by rightist critics, Europeans often have higher median incomes than Americans (median not average, since our average is distorted by the extremes at the top and is near worthless to make a point about what our standard of living is like.) They have more unemployment but hardly enough to make up for how relatively rotten being unemployed (or even being employed) usually is for most Americans.

    hardheaded liberal: That quote is main one of its kind alleged from Churchill, and they have been debunked. Check maybe Snopes for such things. It could indeed express his attitude, and sometimes people put together little pieces of conversation and writing into a succinct “quote.”
    Speaking of quoting without attribution in the Obama case: the guy he borrowed from says it was OK, so it perforce becomes OK since taking from a willing provider is not stealing.

  • Khurram

    If Obama can’t win Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida and have no chance in New Hampshire, where Mccain is popular and only Hillary has a shot, how can he win in November? Does he think he can make up for this by winning Nebraska, Idaho, Alaska, Montana, Louisiana and Georgia? Sorry but there is no way he going to win those states. Obama is not a obviously communist but what is he?? Nobody knows.
    I am really sick of all the Hillary bashing. I could list all of dirty tricks he has pulled that no one has called him on but that would not accomplish anything.

    If there is one thing we should all learn from this election is how MESSED up our democracy is. You would think after 225 years we would have it together. All this business with delegates, super delegates duper-duper delegates is nonsense!
    All 50 states should vote on a given weekend. Add up all the votes at the end of the weekend (or use the electoral college system). At the end, whoever has the most votes or electoral votes wins! All of this is dragging out for months and months, wasting a lot of valuable resources like time and money.

  • John Merryman

    As Robert Frost put it, “I never dared being a radical when I was young, for fear it would make me conservative when I got old.”

    Perhaps Lisa Schiffron can get a job working for the Onion, as that’s where that piece really belongs.

  • Neil B.

    In case you can’t decipher my mistyped html, here it the link (I hope):

    blog link

  • Neil B.

    Well, my post before now-#33 was likely too long, and too long since there were so many Obama proposals quoted! So, take the link and find the comment:
    Posted by: John E | February 20, 2008 2:56 PM
    The number of points mentioned there witness against the empty charge that Obama is “empty.”

  • Count Iblis

    If McCain is elected you can be 99% sure there will be a devastating war against Iran. If Clinton is elected the probability is lower, but war will still be likely. Obama is the only candidate who said that he would sit down and discuss the issues with Iran.

  • Elliot


    If the voting all occurred at once (a single national primary) the candidate with the most money and visibility would have a huge advantage. This is a vetting process and while imperfect, I think it give Americans a chance to learn more about the candidates than a single primary.

    Hillary’s campaign is off the tracks. Questioning Obama’s ability to be commander and chief on day one is completely disingenuous. When she and McCain are suggesting that the judgement he might make in a crisis are that of inexperience, we need to remember he is the only one of the three of them that has opposed the war from the beginning. To me that demonstrates superior judgement.

    My favorite Clinton line from the last few days “we need sound solutions not sound bites” Now if that isn’t intended to be a sound bite….

    Its coming unravelled. I don’t hate Hillary but I think she has simply not made her case as effectively as Obama at this point in history.


    I am not so sure Hillary would be so quick to invade Iran. But I agree that Obama is the best hope for a diplomatic and lasting peace in the region avoiding violence.


  • tacitus

    If you think the Democratic primary process has been arbitrary, then just look at how the Republican primary process worked out. How McCain, probably the only plausibly electable candidate they fielded this time around, managed to come out the winner of the process is testament to wild swings of fortune and lucky breaks. If any number of factors had been slightly different (e.g. if Giuliani hadn’t decided to skip the early primaries and focus on Florida, or if Huckabee hadn’t performed so well in the early debates) then he would have been toast long before he could have staged his comeback.

  • Roman

    Neil B@30
    I was not trying to be sarcastic – I’m from Europe, been in those countries and have to agree that (at least on the surface) life seams good there.
    The question was real and if there was a bit of sarcasm in it, it was from my skepticism that any drastic changes will happen. I’m not even sure if we want any drastic changes. The things like CC reform would certainly help, but is this the “change” we are all hearing about?

  • Richard


    Although I don’t dislike him, Obama has not really made a case. His speeches are like a broken record with a skip, saying “change, change, change, change …”. He’s kind of like a cult figure here with the students. They can’t really tell you WHY he would make a good president, but say that he sure makes great inspiring speeches and they feel good about him anyway. The thing is, most of these students are barely even old enough to remember the Clintons when the Republicans cranked up their very effective and well oiled hate machine against them, and don’t realize that the same will be aimed at Obama. If they think that Obama is going to lift us to a peaceful political unification, they greatly underestimate their enemy and are sadly naive. We need someone who can play hard ball right now. First and foremost, the next president must have to have the guts to root out all of the political operatives that Bush has stuffed into the Federal Government.

  • Elliot

    I think Barack can play hardball. Having lived in D. C. I think the issue of government appointees will take care of itself. After all we are looking at regime change here.

    If McCain is the best they can throw at the democrats, I say let the games begin. Barack will eat his lunch.


  • Pingback: Friday 22 February 2008 « blueollie()

  • Neil B.

    Tacitus, much of the wild swings of Republican primary positioning come from their having “winner-take-all” primaries. This of course does not reflect the preferences of the voters, and simulates the creaky idea that “the states” are like persons with their own will etc. This is ironic since the conservatives that support such primaries, the Electoral College, etc., so often prattle about individualism.


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About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] .


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