The Right's Fixation With 'Vetting' Obama

American voters can use the past four years to judge Obama's qualifications as president

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President Barack Obama
President Barack Obama speaks in Washington, D.C.

The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf has a devastating vivisection today of Breitbart.com's "The Vetting" series, which purports to give Barack Obama's background the thorough scrubbing that conservatives feel the media failed to before the 2008 elections.

"The Vetting" represents a peculiar species of conservative neurosis, which I discussed last week in the context of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Many conservatives are convinced that somewhere hidden in Obama's past is a magical key which will unmask him to American voters as the villain which heretofore only the fringe right has seen him to be.

This theory, while ostensibly an attack on the media for failing to do its civic duty is actually pretty insulting toward U.S. voters. Despite what conservatives seem to think, there hasn't been a media conspiracy to avoid talking about Jeremiah Wright. I ran a Nexis-Lexis search for the phrase "Obama and Jeremiah Wright," for both the period before the 2008 election and for all available dates. In each case, it returned more than 3,000 results—the limit at which Nexis requires you to cut down your search. Similarly I ran a Google News search for "Obama and Jeremiah Wright" and it returned 17,600 results, including 9,400 from before November 4, 2008. There was plenty of information available about Obama and Wright, the public just didn't think it was all that important. That's not a failing of the media or even of the public—it's a failing of the unhinged right.

[ Check out our editorial cartoons on President Obama.]

And as Friedersdorf persuasively argues, it's an obsession that is holding back the right.

For Breitbart.com, the decision to commit substantial editorial resources to the president's past had an immediate opportunity cost: there'd be fewer pieces on his first term in office and less opportunity to present arguments about why conservative policies would better serve the country. The decision seemed strange to me. Conservative media was around during the 2008 election. Was there really relevant information that they'd failed to uncover at the time? And while President Obama surprised civil libertarians with his governing choices, weren't the things conservatives hated about him—the health-care bill, the Keynesian stimulus, the "green jobs" program—basically exactly what you'd expect from the campaign he ran, or from any liberal Democrat?

He then runs through the "The Vetting" series citing example after weak example of what Breitbart.com has, umm, found. I won't recount the whole thing here—the piece is worth a full read—except to note that as he points out much of what they deduce about Obama is hardly secret or surprising. One example: "Charles C. Johnson broke the news that as a community organizer, President Obama worked with leftist Catholics to undermine conservative Catholics. This might've prepared us for Obama's position on the Catholic Church and birth control ... except his position itself was already clear!"

[ See a collection of political cartoons on the 2012 campaign.]

What's the point after four years of Obama governing of trying to deduce from his distant past how he would govern? It's a natural extension of this neurosis: If you're convinced that the president is a secretive figure with a hidden past who must be unmasked before a duped public, it then becomes logical to think that he must be readying really, really, really sinister plans for his second term when he will no longer have to worry about facing voters.

And no doubt four years from now we'll be treated to a raft of stories from the far right regions of the blogosphere frantically warning of how Obama's hidden past foretells the ominous, secretive plans he has for his presidential library.