Here’s what I think on “Othering” Obama, but does it work on you?

his week we’ve looked at the negative turn in the campaign, especially McCain’s attack ads. (Jump back to Monday’s story if you’re just catching up with week’s discussion.) All these ads have a single purpose: to paint Obama as too different from ordinary Americans to be president.
    There’s a clumsy academic term for this process— “othering.” It’s the process of accentuating differences between people, stigmatizing and denigrating the “other.” It divides the world into “us” versus “them.” At its worst, this process makes the other—whoever that may be—as less than human. Racial and ethnic minorities often suffer from this process.
    That’s what’s going on in the McCain attack ads.

    Then, this week, we learned that Hilary Clinton’s chief strategist, Mark Penn (in today’s photos), advocated doing the same thing. His strategy wasn’t followed, but his internal memo on it—acquired by Joshua Green and reproduced in Green’s article in The Atlantic this week—is chilling to read. It’s touching off widespread concern and, earlier this week, the Atlantic article already was brought up by an reader commenting on this page.
    In the Penn memo, referring to Obama’s boyhood in Indonesia, life in Hawaii, and his multicultural background, Penn writes:
    It … exposes a very strong weakness for him—his roots to basic American values and culture are at best limited. I cannot imagine America electing a president during a time of war who is not at his center fundamentally American in his thinking and in his values…
    Penn then suggests how Clinton could accentuate Obama’s “otherness” and make him appear insufficiently American:
    Every speech should contain the line you were born in the middle of America to the middle class in the middle of the last century. And talk about the basic bargain as about the deeply American values you grew up with, learned as a child and that drive you today. Values of fairness, compassion, responsibility, giving back.
    Let’s explicitly own ‘American’ in our programs, the speeches and the values. He doesn’t… Let’s use our logo to make some flags we can give out. Let’s add flag symbols to the backgrounds.


    I abhor Penn’s strategy but respect his insight: He saw that American values reside at the very heart of the issues. “Othering” Obama is an attempt to make him appear unAmerican and disqualify him for the nation’s highest office.
    What do you think about this? Does this appeal work on you? Will it work on other Americans?

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