The Down-Low President?

Over the last few months, the question has been coming up again and again in the comments sections of right-wing websites: Why is the mainstream media putting Herman Cain’s and other Republicans’ sex lives under a microscope while the president gets a free pass on his gay escapades?

It’s true that the rumors about Obama’s homosexuality have set off barely a whisper in the legitimate news media. But in the anti-Obama blogosphere, the murmurs have become a veritable drumbeat, especially since Obama’s long-form birth certificate was made public, depriving the birther movement of so much of its impetus. When the White House issued a statement about longtime aide Reggie Love’s resignation on November 10, one far-right blog heralded the “historic and unprecedented press release — where a male President of the United States has announced his breakup with a male staffer and longtime lover.”

Back on August 16, Rush Limbaugh made a point of mentioning a viral E-mail he had received about the mystery of Obama’s former girlfriends. “It’s a takeoff on where are all of the students Obama taught who claim to have been inspired by him when he taught law at the University of Chicago,” he explained. “Where are all of the former classmates of Obama who can tell wonderful stories about their experience with Obama on campus or in the classroom? And they are interesting because those people haven’t surfaced. There aren’t any ex-girlfriends that have admitted it. Students that have been inspired by Obama as a professor, they haven’t come forth. Media hasn’t dug ‘em up.”

While Limbaugh left the question hanging, satisfied with mere innuendo, others have been less circumspect. Larry Sinclair wrote a book called Barack Obama and Larry Sinclair: Cocaine, Sex, Lies, and Murder? in which he claims to have done cocaine with Obama on two occasions in 1999 and performed oral sex on him. He also accuses Obama of conspiring with his former minister, Jeremiah Wright, to murder several gay members of the Trinity United Church of Christ (Ben Smith of Politico detailed Sinclair’s extensive criminal background back in 2008, when Sinclair held a press conference at the National Press Club – after which he was promptly arrested on an outstanding warrant).

The conspiratorially inclined blogger Wayne Madsen released a special report in May 2010 that was picked up by the tabloid The Globe. It tied a host of scurrilous stories into a grand gay conspiracy that not only recapitulated Sinclair’s outrageous accusations but tied Rahm Emanuel (like Obama, Madsen claimed, a lifetime member of a gay Chicago bathhouse), disgraced ex-governor Rod Blagojevich, the imprisoned real estate developer Tony Rezko, and U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald into the story as well. Madsen goes on to claim that Obama’s male paramours have included not just Reggie Love but former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, former U.S. Rep. Artur Davis of Alabama, and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick.

It’s vicious, bilious stuff that can’t but remind anyone with a long memory of the equally mean-spirited, unsubstantiated rumors that swirled around the Clintons — about Vince Foster’s allegedly “suspicious” suicide and the supposed cover-up following Ron Brown’s plane crash, to name just a couple. Linda Thompson’s “Clinton Body Count” accused the Clintons of involvement in as many as 34 other deaths (the Clintons were reputed to have cold-bloodedly murdered everyone who could possibly say damaging things about them, except, as it turned out, the ones who could and did, like Paula Jones, Monica Lewinsky, Linda Tripp, Ken Starr, and so many more). Of course Obama and Clinton aren’t unique; all presidents have had to deal with rumors. Back in the 1950s, there were rumors that Eisenhower’s mother was black; FDR’s enemies called him a secret Jew.

But Obama is unique in that he has been the object of virtually every kind of bigotry there is. For haters, anyway, he offers something for everyone: his race, his national origin, his father’s and stepfather’s Islamic beliefs, his supposedly left-wing politics, even his sexuality. And the election season is only starting.