Conspiracy Theories

Michelle, Ma Belle, These Are Fears That Go Together Well

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Our own Dave Weigel has said most of what needs to be said about the latest Michelle Obama rumors, but Robert A. George has a post worth reading as well:

This is the '08 version of a really weird conservative urban legend that pops up every four years. The names change, but the basics remain the same: 1) It always involves the wife of the Democratic presidential candidate; 2) It always portrays the wife—not the candidate—committing some anti-American, unpatriotic act.

I was first exposed to this during the 1988 campaign when the line was, "There's a picture out there of Kitty Dukakis burning the American flag…just wait til that comes out…" (that one got out of hand when a GOP senator actually believed it and called a press conference to say he would soon produce the evidence—which never materialized). Four years later, "There's a picture out there of Hillary Clinton burning the American flag…just wait 'til that comes out…" In 1996, the Hillary thing repeated itself. In '04, there was a similar one about Teresa Heinz Kerry.

Differences this year: Because of the racial angle and Jeremiah Wright, Michelle Obama—and Louis Farrakhan, for good measure—are blaming "whitey." Because of YouTube, it's a clip, not a photo. Oh, and it's also real early: This urban legend isn't supposed to start making the rounds until September or so. Perhaps it's because this one has "crossed over"—Larry Johnson is a lefty blogger partial to Hillary, so he's caught up in the feverish wish that this might be true. Sorry, Larry, don't hold your breath.

George's last paragraph gets to why I never found this rumor credible. There was too much in the story; it felt like someone's racially charged imagination got carried away. Michelle Obama denounced "whitey"—and Farrakhan was there! And it was at Trinity Church! And remember that stuff Sister Souljah said about black-on-black crime? Obama said it too! (In other news, I hear there's a dynamite tape out there of John Kerry, Jane Fonda, and Dan Rather sharing a laugh after they spit on a Swift Boat veteran.)

Jim Geraghty has more:

Just as Robert George wrote this post on Ragged Thots about urban legends and Democratic nominee's wives, I was talking to someone who spent a good chunk of the 1988 campaign trying to track down a long-rumored photo of Kitty Dukakis throwing feces at the American flag in the 1960s. He never found it, and doubts that it ever happened, but he kept running into people who were convinced they saw it….

If we come out and see the tape, I'll be happy to say that I was wrong, and that I was too skeptical. But the Internet is full of these kinds of vague stories and rumors, stories where the evidence "will be revealed at the right time," which is always some unspecified point in the future, never today.

Final thought: You know those people who think any attack on Hillary Clinton just has to be a sign of sexism? What do they think of these attacks on Michelle Obama?