Obama on Their Minds 

Two Tennesseans go national with their outlook on the Democratic candidate.

Bill Hobbs, the Tennessee Republican Party communications director whose flirtations with notoriety have more than once gained him national attention, has struck oil again — and once more his foil is presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama.

Back in February, Hobbs put out one of his patented incendiary press releases, this one referring to the Illinois senator by his whole name, "Barack Hussein Obama," showing a photograph of Obama wearing native Kenyan clothes (misidentified as "Muslim garb") on a visit to his father's ancestral African homeland, and — as some read the release — imputing to Obama anti-Semitism or at least lackluster support for the state of Israel.

That release was roundly denounced in political and media circles and was explicitly repudiated by Tennessee's two Republican senators, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker; by 7th District congresswoman Marsha Blackburn; by Republican National Committee chairman Mike Duncan; and by presumptive GOP presidential nominee John McCain.

Now Hobbs has launched another Obama shot — at Michelle Obama this time, the candidate's wife — who stopped over in Nashville last week. Coinciding with her visit was a new Tennessee Republican Party press release with an embedded video showing various Nashvillians finding fault with a stump statement by Michelle Obama: "For the first time in my adult lifetime, I'm really proud of my country."

The cameos in the video were devoted more to generalized patriotic fustian than to attacks on Michelle Obama per se, however; so this time there was little, if any, negative reaction from Tennessee Republicans of stature.

Hobbs did get a rise out of one prominent politician, however: Barack Obama. Appearing Monday with his wife on the ABC-TV show Good Morning America, the candidate blasted the Tennessee GOP press release as "low class" and "detestable," and said, "These folks should lay off my wife. All right? Just in case they're watching. If they think that they're going to try to make Michelle an issue in this campaign, they should be careful, because that I find unacceptable."

To which, Hobbs said candidate Obama had been "hypocritical," "condescending," and "scary" and insisted on his right to be critical of Michelle Obama as a campaign surrogate for her husband.

• Barack Obama drew both support and disagreement from another Tennesseean last week. Harold Ford Jr., the former 9th District congressman from Memphis and the current head of the center-right Democratic Leadership Council, first defended Obama against an implied accusation of "appeasement" from President Bush, who, speaking to a meeting of the Israeli Knesset in Jerusalem, warned against diplomatic dealing with terrorists.

But on NBC's Meet the Press on Sunday, Ford was coaxed into some mild criticism of his own concerning Obama's professed willingness to start unconditional one-on-one discussions with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Said Ford: "I'll concede, you cannot meet with foreign leaders — with terrorists, rather, those that lead rogue nations — without some conditions."

• At some point last week during the public-corruption trial of former councilman Edmund Ford, informant Joe Cooper was on the stand and doing his best to narrate a shadowy piece of video evidence derived from a tiny camera ingeniously disguised as a button on his shirt. As images of Cooper's FBI handlers, attempting to adjust the apparatus, bobbed in and out of focus, one image, in the upper right corner, remained relatively stable.

"That's my glasses and nose," Cooper declared. And, sure enough, once he'd pointed it out, it was easy enough to make out those blob-like outlines, seen from below and slightly behind. There he was — just enough of him showing to suggest a vintage image familiar to survivors and students of World War Two.

Back then, G.I.s in the European theater of operations would signify their presence by scrawling on walls and other available surfaces a basic image, consisting of a bald head, a pair of goggle eyes, and a banana-shaped nose looped over a fence, under which ran the message, "Kilroy was here." It was a symbol of ubiquity, frustration, and God knows what else.

Indisputably, Cooper — as onetime officeholder, as perennial candidate, as witness, as indictee himself, and as all-around wheeler-dealer, adviser, Mr. Fixit, and background presence — is the Kilroy of local government. But, in his last day of testimony, Cooper offered another, preferred term of self-description: "concierge."


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