Oct 7, 2008 4:03 pm


During the 1950 Democratic Senatorial Primary in Florida, challenger George Smathers went way beyond shamelessness in insinuating that incumbent Claude Pepper‘s relatively liberal racial and political views marked him as “the Red Pepper,” a seditious radical who might well be cashing checks cut in the Kremlin. Disgusted with this daily charade, a bored reporter covering the campaign apparently concocted a caricatured version of Smathers’s standard stump speech:
"Are you aware that Claude Pepper is known all over Washington as a shameless extrovert? Not only that, but this man is reliably reported to practice nepotism with his sister-in-law, and he has a sister who was once a thespian in wicked New York. Worst of all, it is an established fact that Mr. Pepper before his marriage habitually practiced celibacy."
I thought of this oft-told story when I read that, having failed utterly to come up with anything of substantive positive appeal to voters, the McCain campaign is predictably returning to its old strategy of trying to make Barack Obama out as a sinister America-hating radical.

To that end, on Saturday, the perky pit bull Governor P. is even going so far as to admit that she has read the New York Times, or at least one of its stories showing that Barry O. loves to hang out with “domestic terrorists.” Ms. P. is referring, of course, to the now somewhat long-in-the-tooth William Ayers, a former member of the Weather Underground group that carried out a series of bombings in the early ‘70s. (Never mind that B.O. was only ten years old back then, can anybody be sure what he was really up to when he claimed to be watching “Scooby-Doo?”) As countless news outlets have have reported, a grown-up Obama has denounced the bombings, and his primary association with Ayers came through their joint service on a charity board. Still, there’s enough there to convince at least one no-nonsense hockey mom that the guy heading the other ticket ``is someone who sees America as imperfect enough to pal around with terrorists who targeted their own country.''
Although she is better known for blasting away at moose, Palin is likely just as comfortable witch-hunting, given that she has been blessed with protection from witchcraft, as documented in a video that, for some reason GOP types don’t seem to enjoy as much as a certain other tape from their opponent’s church. Of that second video Palin observed to Bill Kristol, who is one the few elite conservatives still trying to convince us that he actually takes her seriously: “Those were appalling things that that pastor had said about our great country, and to have sat in the pews for 20 years and listened to that — with, I don’t know, a sense of condoning it, I guess, because he didn’t get up and leave — to me, that does say something about character.”
What then, pray tell us Sarah P., did it say about your character, when, scarcely a month ago, you sat perfectly still in your pew while Jews for Jesus founder David Brickner stood in your church and described a July Palestinian bulldozer attack against Israeli civilians as part of God's"judgment" against them for rejecting the Messiah?
While we’re at it, we might also advise the stone chunkin’ Ms. Palin not to forget the glass house surrounding her longstanding cozy relationship with the secessionist Alaskan Independence Party, whose website quotes this rather startling assertion from party founder Joe Vogler:
"I'm an Alaskan, not an American. I've got no use for America or her damned institutions."
If that doesn’t get your attention, get a load of this from a taped oral history interview on file at the University of Alaska: “the fires of Hell are frozen glaciers compared to my hate for the American Government, and I won't be buried under their damn flag.” (Who knows? Maybe Jeremiah Wright has just been channeling this guy.)
Although Alaska’s “First Dude” Todd Palin was apparently an AIP member for seven years, there’s no evidence that the CEO herself ever officially signed up with this bunch of lunatics. Yet knowing full well that the group continues to push for a vote on secession, the good Guv addressed their convention a few months ago via videotape and urged them to “keep up the good work.”
Unfortunately, even well-documented right-wing radicalism has never scared as many Americans as the mere hint of such activities on the left. And, by the way, George Smathers beat Claude Pepper in 1950 and served in the Senate until 1968, distinguishing himself primarily by voting against every major piece of civil rights legislation and staking his claim as, save only for his womanizing pal John F. Kennedy, the least celibate married politician in Washington.

Sarah Palin probably wouldn’t approve of his lifestyle, but she clearly isn’t above his political style. It remains to be seen whether her act is playing anywhere other than the dark red enclaves to which she has been protectively consigned, but judging by what we’ve seen so far,if Ms. Palin intends to drop the lame references to Harry Truman and latch on to George Smathers as her role model, somebody better rush out and buy her the biggest thesaurus they can find.

(Cross-posted at

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James C. Cobb - 10/7/2008

I just read your comment again. Were you "careful" to read my post before you advised me to be "careful" about my sources?

James C. Cobb - 10/7/2008

Thanks, I'll keep that in mind the next time I write anything about Smathers. jc

Sherman Jay Dorn - 10/7/2008

You should be wary of anything that Time magazine is the primary source on. I think the standard reference is now Crispell's "Testing the Limits: George Armistead Smathers and Cold War America" for how the myth about Smathers's supposed speech developed.

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