Joe Ricketts, TD Ameritrade founder and supporter of the Ending Spending Action Fund, a conservative SuperPAC
Updated: June 29, 2012 9:41AM
There’s a persistent belief on the right that President Barack Obama sneaked into office in 2008 because an awestruck media refused to look into his background and personal associations, preventing voters from learning about all sorts of radical, anti-American connections that would have turned them against the Democratic nominee.
In this narrative, John McCain also comes in for criticism because of his refusal to fully exploit Obama’s ties to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright of Chicago during the general election.
This is the mind-set that, according to a story in Thursday’s New York Times, had Joe Ricketts, the billionaire benefactor of the Ending Spending Action Fund, a conservative SuperPAC, mulling a $10 million anti-Obama ad blitz designed to “do exactly what John McCain would not let us do.”
According to the Times, Joe Ricketts, the founder of Ameritrade and father of Chicago Cubs president Tom Ricketts, was presented with a 54-page anti-Obama blueprint drawn up by GOP media consultant Fred Davis.
“Our plan is to do exactly what John McCain would not let us do: Show the world how Barack Obama’s opinions of America and the world were formed,” the proposal said. “And why the influence of that misguided mentor and our president’s formative years among left-wing intellectuals has brought our country to its knees.”
The story included all kinds of interesting tidbits about the proposal, including its suggestion that the SuperPAC hire an “extremely literate conservative African-American” as a flack to deflect charges of race-baiting.
Later Thursday, Joe Ricketts. released a statement disavowing the proposal. A spokesman for his SuperPAC, reacting to widespread criticism of the ad plan Thursday — even from presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney — said Ricketts “rejects” the approach.
And, in any event, it wouldn’t have had the devastating impact its authors envisioned. It probably wouldn’t have had much, or any, impact at all.
For one thing, the notion that Obama wasn’t fully vetted by the press in 2008 and that voters are in the dark about all sorts of troubling biographic details and character traits just doesn’t compute.
The Rev. Wright issue, for instance, was covered exhaustively by the press, enough to compel Obama to deliver a lengthy speech on race that, if anything, probably made him more appealing to the average swing voter.
And while McCain may not have authorized ads about Wright, many of his allies on the right (not to mention his running mate) filled the air with warnings about Obama’s secret radicalism.
None of this seemed to move voters back then. More to the point, nothing that has happened in the intervening four years has given Americans any reason to believe that there was anything to the radicalism charges of ’08.
Obama’s approval rating isn’t that great right now, but it’s because the economy is in rough shape and voters are questioning his policies. It’s not because he has said or done anything that validates the charge of radicalism; the policies he has pursued are entirely within the mainstream of the Democratic Party.
The idea that a bunch of ads that dredge up a four-year-old controversy will make voters suddenly conclude that the warnings were right seems entirely off-base.
Steve Kornacki writes about politics for Salon, where this essay was posted.