The #1 Sign That Obama is the Democratic Nominee…


… is that the rumor mill that's churned out unsubstantiated smears for every candidate on a lucky streak—Clinton '92, McCain '00 (black baby), then Bush '00 (cocaine) Kerry '04 (intern affair)—is now attacking the grandson of a goat-herder. Amusingly (to me, at least), the founts for most of the smearing are two men named Larry. The first one's Larry Sinclair, a portly gay man who recorded a grainy YouTube video alleging a wild night of drugs and sex with the candidate "between November 3 and November 9 in the Chicago, Illinois area." Which night? Eh, one of 'em.

Sinclair has produced no facts harder than his own hotel records and parts of Obama's schedule (which reveal he was in Chicago!), and he's failed a polygraph test. But the Globe ran a story on his allegation. Bill Cunningham (the Ohio radio host McCain ostracized for his anti-Obama rant at a rally) invited Sinclair on his show. Sinclair even appeared on Super xClusivo, a Puerto Rican talk show (co-hosted by a puppet), to tell islanders about that fateful, fictional night. This weekend, as Eve Fairbanks reported, Sinclair hobnobbed with Hillary supporters outside the DNC's delegate meeting. The reception was not cold.

The second smear has been burning up the internets for weeks. Larry Johnson, a former CIA operative best known for claiming Karl Rove would be indicted over the Valerie Plame mess, has tried to add meat to a long-standing rumor: that a tape exists of Michelle Obama "railing against whitey." There's always been something "off" about this rumor. In the year 2008, when videos of Jeremiah Wright sermons and Mitt Romney whoppers were uploaded to YouTube regularly, and with ease, who was still hoarding video tapes? And the rumor has been twisted and mangled as different people have spread it.

Last week, I learned of a Clinton donor who'd seen the video on an iPhone and was trying to push it onto liberal media. But iPhones display video from YouTube—where you can't find this video—or in digital format burned onto the phone. Could someone convert the video to an easily-downloable format and just decide to keep a lid on it?* Whatever! Last night, I learned that the same donor had actually seen a DVD of the "whitey" speech, and that Louis Farrakhan appeared in it. This was around the time that Johnson poured gasoline on the story by promising an "explosive" break in the story. Today's update:

I learned over the weekend why the Republicans who have seen the tape of Michelle Obama ranting about "whitey" describe it as "STUNNING." I have not seen it but I have heard from five separate sources who have spoken directly with people who have seen the tape. It features Michelle Obama and Louis Farrakhan. They are sitting on a panel at Jeremiah Wright's Church when Michelle makes her intemperate remarks. Whoops!!

Philadelphia blogger Booman has a theory, based on yet more heresay:

From what I understand, it is a tape of Michelle Obama criticizing the Bush administration.

How you'd write it:

Why did Bush cut folks off medicaid?
Why did Bush let New Orleans drown?
Why did Bush do nothing about Jena?
Why did Bush put us in Iraq for no reason?

How you'd say it:

Why'd he cut folks off medicaid?
Why'd he let New Orleans drown?
Why'd he do nothing about Jena?
Why'd he put us in Iraq for no reason?

How Larry Johnson wants you to hear it:

Whitie cut folks off medicaid?
Whitie let New Orleans drown?
Whitie do nothing about Jena?
Whitie put us in Iraq for no reason?

But this is, if anything, even weirder. Katrina came in August 2005, when Obama was a U.S. senator and the couple's notoriety in Chicago was at its height. The Jena controversy raged in 2007, when Obama was running for president. (It also occurred after Farrakhan started to retreat from public life.) If anyone wants to compare Louis Farrakhan's travel records to dates the Obamas appeared at Trinity, go ahead (the last Farrakhan appearance at Trinity was 11/2/07, when the Obamas were presumably busy trying to win the Iowa caucus), but it beggars belief that he could join a panel with Obama's wife as late as 2005 and no one would hear about it. (An alternate version of this theory has Michelle Obama only referring to "Katrina" and explicitly hating on "whitey.")

What to make from this? The Sinclair thing is pure kookery, but the "whitey tape" thing is a revealing example of how narratives swallow up candidates. The idea that Michelle Obama could "rail against whitey" would have been racist bilge a year or so ago. But since then we've heard her say that her husband's political success made her "proud of her country for the first time" in her adult life. We've seen her senior thesis about racial identity. We've learned about her church. Based on that, Obama has been transformed from a glamorous potential first lady into a female Louis Farrakhan. If she turns out to have given an on-camera bigoted rant? Shame on her. If Clinton supporters are trying to keep their hopes alive by spreading rumors about their opponent's wife?

*Edited this to make it clear why the iPhone story doesn't make sense to me.