The More the Right Smears Barack Obama, the More I Like Him

| Fri Jan. 19, 2007 2:23 PM EST

Two days ago, right-wing magazine Insight ran a story alleging that Barack Obama is hiding inflammatory details about the four years he spent in Indonesia as a youth -- specifically that he was educated at a madrassa, and may have been raised as a Muslim. Now, Fox News is up and running with the story.

There are two issues here that Obama's enemies are trying to work in their favor. The first is the surprising revelation that Obama is even more "different" than Americans already thought. He's already the son of a Kenyan immigrant and a white woman. He's already someone who spent parts of his youth abroad and in Hawaii. He's already a smoker and former cocaine user.

But here's the thing: The more I learn about Obama's background, with all its cultural diversity and time abroad, the more I believe it is a strong mark in his favor. Look what happened when we elected the almost comically provincial George W. Bush. Before 2000, he had hardly left the country, he knew none of the world's leaders, and he had no background in foreign policy. Is it any surprise that when he took this country to war he had neither an understanding of the region he invaded nor the sensitivity and charm needed to garner international support? Any immigrant, child of an immigrant, or frequent world traveler can tell you: there is invaluable experience to be gained from living amongst the people of the rest of the world, be it in Peru, Tanzania, France, Russia, Indonesia, or anywhere else. Appreciation of America's riches is only one such.

The second issue is that Obama's past can be tagged with "Muslim," which, in this instance, is being used almost like a slur. The story from Insight -- which, by the way, claims that a source within Hillary's opposition research operation gave them the dirt on Obama -- pretends the real issue is that Obama is hiding his past from the American public. But in reality, the story is simply that "Muslim" is a dirty word that engenders suspicion in America, and now its supposedly horrible stain is on the senator from Illinois. Merited or not, he's going to have a hell of a time wiping it off. Of course, this should all be thoroughly ridiculous, but look at what happened to poor Keith Ellison, the nation's first Muslim congressman, who, instead of being celebrated, was greeted by a newscaster who asked him to prove he was "not working with our enemies" and a fellow lawmaker who suggested tighter immigration standards to keep more Muslims out of Congress.

I've put a call out to Obama's folks to get a comment. Stayed tuned.