A friend has been sending me viral, anti-Obama e-mails since the 2008 primaries heated up. No, he's not trying to convert me. He gets them from a right wing friend and forwards them to me.
These e-mails are "viral" in two senses. They spread like a virus over the internet as people forward them to others. And they are a toxic mixture of fact and fiction designed to infect readers with irrational fear and hatred. Think of them as an H1N1 virus aimed at the amygdala, that ancient part of our brains which responds to feelings of anxiety and fear.
The e-mails run the gamut of anti-Obama hysteria, from Obama's disrespect for our country and the troops to his fake birth certificate to his love of the PLO and hatred of Israel. All the usual garbage is there.
Who writes them? I suspect they're cranked out by groups promoting a far right agenda, but they're usually attributed to regular folks who care about our country: a "female air force veteran," a "member of the Billy Graham Team," a "young law student," "our daughter Mary." Occasionally they're attributed to foreigners, like the most recent I received from "a group of attorneys in Australia."
And they usually end with a variation of, "Pass this on to everyone you know!"
The standard tactic is to start with a few facts which arouse suspicions in the suspicious but aren't damning in themselves, then follow with distortions or outright lies which seal the deal, proving (if they were true) that Obama is as evil or misguided as they say.
Here's a typical statement: "[Obama] is half-white, which he rejects. The rest of him is mostly Arab."
Another e-mail claims Obama said this about veterans who want free health care: "Nobody made these guys go to war. … Now they whine about bearing the costs of their choice." It would be a damning indictment if Obama said it. In fact, the line is from a piece of satire written by a conservative humorist.
The e-mail by "a group of attorneys in Australia" is a classic. The premise is, Obama isn't running the show. He's a "front man."
"… his strings are being pulled by someone else. … they are life-long community organizers and they know what kind of face can be effective if you wish to radically change the nation. First, you need a black man to gain the support of the vast black minority. …"
For years, the e-mail continues, these "life-long radicals, professed communists and anti-capitalists, some of whom he has even appointed as czars in his administration" have been grooming him to be their puppet President. "His successes … have been orchestrated."
The e-mail lists ways these people have pumped up Obama's resume over the years. For instance, they wonder what he was doing on the Harvard Law Review.
"I mean," the e-mail says, "Harvard Law Review without publishing a single paper of note. That is unusual."
Except it's not unusual at all. Law review members are top students at a law school, not published authors. They choose articles submitted by legal scholars to publish in the school's law journal. Any lawyer would know that, Australian or not. Written by lawyers? Hardly.
As I read over the e-mails to write this column, a funny thing happened – and by funny, I mean scary as hell. They no longer seemed as outrageous as they once had. Next to the inflammatory rhetoric I hear every day on TV, the e-mails sound almost quaint by comparison.
Arizona's own Rep. Shadegg recently intimated that New York's mayor might see his daughter kidnapped by terrorists if he allows the 9/11 trials in his city. And Glenn Beck compared Democrats' attempts to pass healthcare reform with Roman Polanski's rape of a 13-year-old girl.
Maybe I should turn off the TV and stick with the e-mails.
Dave Safier is a regular contributor to Blog for Arizona.