I've been struggling somewhat to get a handle on some of the smearing now directed at Barack Obama. Some of it is politics as usual and nothing that one can get too upset about. It is the job of opposing campaigns to try and paint a picture or construct a narrative about an opponent that emphasizes their electoral weaknesses. And so arguing that Obama is "inexperienced" or "unvetted" or "liberal" is a completely legitimate, if somewhat depressing, strategy. He who drives the narrative wins the election. And a narrative about a biography is the most powerful there is.
To say that someone who self-describes as a Christian is actually an atheist or a Muslim is a form of McCarthyism, but because it rests on no facts at all, and mere suspicion, and indeed denial of what the candidate himself says in an area only the candidate can truly know, it's something slightly different. McCarthy at least himself believed that his targets might have been (and some indeed were) Communists. Bill Kristol doesn't actually believe that Obama is a Communist. But the threat of a non-Republican non-fundamentalist Christianity emerging in national political discourse is so dangerous to Kristol's coalition that the Big Lie is necessary. McCarthy, one needs to remember, had more respect for the truth and was far less cynical than Rove.
So, taking a cue from Colbert, maybe one way to describe this kind of tactic is McTruthyism.
In McTruthyism, you have to know the actual truth about someone and nonetheless eager to smear that person with a lie. It gets truthy when you frame the lie as a question or a suspicion or the revelation of a secret. So the McTruthy lie will come in a factually irrefutable form: "The Mask Slips." "As far as I know." "Hmmmm." The classic formulation comes from - surprise! - South Carolina:
"Obama, Osama, hmm, are they brothers?"
They're just asking. They're not saying. Like Stephanopoulos and Gibson, or Rove or Clinton, they have no evidence for their accusations; they just don't know for sure. Is Obama really a patriot? Is he really a Christian? And since their target is already defined as a potential fraud, the last person to believe is Obama himself. In fact, his denials only help underscore the shifty, devious deception of his candidacy. And the job of politics and journalism is to ask questions, isn't it? Are you actually a communist? Do you secretly hate your country? Do you privately support terrorism? Is your Christianity a front for Marxism? Do you find the Pledge of Allegiance repellent? Do you respect the flag?
It's all about the truth, after all. Or the "truth". Or power. And as this campaign proceeds, you can see how many in the Washington elite care about each.