Is Barack Obama a ‘real American'?

It's all about arugula, this presidential election.

The McCain camp has been telling us that as a way, I suppose, of suggesting that Barack Obama should be dismissed as, well, just not one of us – not a real American. (After all, wasn't he born in Hawaii or some other Asian country?)

McCainians have been in a tizzy lately about arugula. You could Google it up.

The iceberg vote

Authentic Americans apparently eat iceberg lettuce, if they're wussy enough to eat any greens at all. And never mind that arugula, which sounds ritzier than it is, is in the produce bins of just about every grocery store and is common in restaurants' house salads.

Obama, it is declaimed, marked himself off from real people by mentioning arugula while discussing farm economics, as an example of a product that, cheap from the field but pricey at the store, leaves most of its profit in the hands of middlemen. Arugula! OMG.

This assault by arugula is part of a broader campaign from McCain to turn his opponent in the minds of voters into a creature at once exotic and flimsy, certainly not a firmly stitched part of the American quilt.

The Rove chop-shop

The same game was run with great success against Al Gore eight years ago and against John Kerry four years back. It may be a bit of a surprise coming from John McCain, who promised better. But that was before he imported operatives from Karl Rove's political chop-shop at the urging of Republican heavyweights worried that McCain was flopping.

The Bush-Rove campaigns specialized in character assassination.

Gore was ridiculed as a smarty pants, with the implied assumption that the last sort of person Americans should want as their president was someone thoughtful and knowledgeable. Providence and Bush have spared the nation from that fate.

To do in Gore, the Bush campaign worked up a catechism of Gore's crazy boasts and lies – remember inventing the Internet? – every one of which was either a lie itself or grossly misleading. Even the many newspapers whose investigations exposed the political fraud couldn't stop themselves from repeating the claims, demurrer forgotten, throughout the campaign.

And Kerry, a much-decorated Navy veteran of the Vietnam war, was smeared as nearly a traitor by a slanderous campaign that attacked his service, even as the Navy, reviewing its files, reaffirmed his record. To boot, Kerry was ridiculed for knowing French and giggled at for silly-billy windsurfing, in fact a strenuous sport but one largely alien to the Great Plains and the mountain states.

A Limbaughescue campaign

McCain commercials pair Obama with photos of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, although he has never been known to go clubbing without underpants. The point is to dismiss him as just another celebrity, which oddly, when you think about it, only calls attention to his popularity.

A current offering on McCain's YouTube site ridicules Obama as – ha-ha – “The One,” a preening, messianic pretender, like Charlton Heston, no less, playing Moses, thunderbolts and all.

Forget any hope this campaign might be better than the last two. John McCain has chosen to present himself for the presidency with the sneers, and in the ever-mocking voice, of Rush Limbaugh.