Monday, October 13, 2008

A very dangerous ugliness

Utter contempt for Democrats is nothing new from the conservative base. But in 2000 and 2004, the Republican rank and file was more likely to mock Gore’s stiffness or make fun of Kerry with such sayings as “flip, flop, flip, flop” while waving flip flop sandals in the air. This year, 2008, the emotion on display is unadulterated anger and hatred. There is disbelief that Obama is ahead in the polls. “How could this be happening when Obama is a terrorist?” they ask, referring to the viral e-mails that have traveled around the Internet for over a year now.

On February 21, 2000, during the News Hour with Jim Lehrer, McCain said: "…I just have to rely on the good judgment of the voters not to buy into these negative attack ads. Sooner or later, people are going to figure out if all you run is negative attack ads you don't have much of a vision for the future or you're not ready to articulate it." He was speaking of the scurrilous attacks that were being made against him by Bush/Cheney/Rove.

After the second McCain-Obama debate this October, the polls rose in Obama’s favor causing the conservatives to run scared. Shouts of "terrorist" and "treason" aimed at Obama turned Republican rallies into alarming, hate-filled frenzies against the Democratic candidate. Then after letting things build up into a fury for several days, after the attacks began to spill into a very dangerous ugliness, McCain did an about face and urged his supporters to stop hurling abuse against Obama, saying he admired and respected his Democratic rival.

On Friday, at a Minnesota rally, McCain gave the microphone to an elderly woman who then told him that she was afraid of Obama because he was an “Arab,” McCain quickly took the microphone from her and said, “No ma’am.”

She asked, “He isn’t?”

“No,” McCain said, “He is a decent person, a family man, a citizen…”

A young man said that he was scared of Obama. McCain answered, “ I want to be president ... but I have to tell you that he is a decent person and a person you don't have to be scared of as president of the United States."

Then a man stood up and said, “We want you to fight.”

McCain answered, “We want to fight, and I will fight, but we will be respectful.”

McCain was booed by the crowd.

He replied to the boos, “I admire Senator Obama and his accomplishments and I will respect him. I want everyone to be respectful and let's make sure we are, because that is the way that politics should be conducted in America.”

For a moment there, I caught a glimpse of the McCain I had once admired. What caused this sudden about face by McCain? The US Secret Service told McCain that it was investigating an alleged death threat from a Florida rally attendee. But I can neither forget nor forgive the horrid ugliness, the ignorance, the name-calling and abuse that I saw projected toward Obama at various McCain and Palin rallies during the last week. For McCain to decide to stop the hate and ugliness because one of his followers had made a threat on Obama’s life does not change my opinion of him.

To my disgust, McCain has proven to be quite a different man than the one I once admired. John McCain has been too willing to say and do anything – with zero regard for truth or decency – in order to win the job of President. I do not believe McCain chose to tone down the attacks, but instead was forced to do so, by the Secret Service. It is now being said that McCain will change his tactics, once again, and actually talk about the economy and its effects on the middle class. But during this past week, as far as I am concerned, he has lost all right to legitimate argument.

Let’s take a look at the past week:

Monday, October 6, at a rally in New Mexico, Senator McCain, while spewing toxic assaults against his Democratic opponent, asked the crowd, "Who is the real Barack Obama?" An audience member shouted back "He's a terrorist!" McCain did not correct the man, but instead, he grinned and went on with his speech.

At a Wednesday rally in Pennsylvania, McCain asked the same question. A woman yelled, "He's a damn liar! Get him! He's bad for our country!" Another shouted back, "he is a bomb."

On Thursday, “I’m mad; I’m really mad!” a Wisconsin voter bellowed at McCain. “And what’s going to surprise ya, is it’s not the economy — it’s the socialists taking over our country. When you have an Obama, Pelosi and the rest of the hooligans up there gonna run this country, we gotta have our head examined!”

In the same Wisconsin mob, as one man in the audience asked a question about Obama’s associations, the crowd erupted in name-calling. “Obama, Osama!” one woman called out. The crowd took up the chant.

During the same week, the pit bull was unleashed and ran amok. Palin told those gathered at her rallies that Obama doesn't like American soldiers. "He said that our troops in Afghanistan are just, quote, 'air-raiding villages and killing civilians,' " she said, drawing boos from a crowd while a crowd member screamed "treason!" ( The full context of the quote shows that Obama was NOT criticizing troops in any way, he was talking about how we need more troops in Afghanistan, to put in practice Petraeus' "clear and hold" tactic so that more civilians aren't killed there. Obama has long held this position, one that McCain has only recently come around to. But the McCain campaign twists the quote to make it sound unpatriotic.)

Palin linked Obama with a terrorist every time she gave a speech. "Now it turns out, one of his earliest supporters is a man named Bill Ayers, and, according to the New York Times, he was a domestic terrorist and part of a group that, quote, 'launched a campaign of bombings that would target the Pentagon and our U.S. Capitol,'" she said as the crowd booed loudly. Never mind that she is deliberately misquoting the New York Times. Truth does not matter to them. ( Many uninformed voters seem to be unaware that the “relationship” between Ayers and Obama is from serving on the same education charity board in Chicago. These voters do not know that anyone who serves in any education position in Chicago will cross paths with Ayers, now an education professor at a state university. Ayers served with Obama and many others on a non-profit board that disbursed $50 million in grants dealing with school reform. Obama and Ayers were NOT friends, although Ayers hosted a coffee for Obama in his first run for state office. Yet Palin would like the Republican base to believe there was more to the relationship that just both men serving on the same board.)

During Palin’s incendiary rhetoric linking Obama to terrorism, a supporter yells "Kill him." This was clearly heard by Palin and others in the crowd. Did Sarah stop in her tracks and admonish the shouter? No.

"Kill him" apparently passed the test for what's allowed in crowd reactions at Republican rallies.

Then there were the speakers at McCain/Palin rallies who continued, unchecked by their leadership, to refer to "Barack Hussein Obama" - the emphasis on his middle name is to imply that Obama is Muslim when he is really a Christian. These speakers know that most people attending the McCain/Palin rallies are low-information voters who vote on non-factual emotion instead of knowledge, so they are inciting voters to draw the worst possible conclusion:

That in the post 9-11 world, a dark-skinned man with a middle name of Hussein is somehow a Muslim terrorist, a one-man sleeper cell, from Africa or the Middle East, who, when once elected president will somehow turn our country over to bin Laden.

This is unbelievable. They seem to just let the misinformation pour into their heads. Garbage in, garbage out.

Every time Sarah Palin talked about Barack Obama "palling around with terrorists," it added fuel to the absurd notion that he's a Muslim terrorist. Every time McCain railed on about tenuous character issues, it made it okay for his followers to base their votes on viral e-mails full of bigotry, lies, and hate that family members or friends forwarded, rather than on issues that matter:

“Obama is a terrorist,” they say, citing his name as proof of ties to Islam:

There IS a limit to how far it is acceptable to go with negative campaigning, and the McCain Team has exceeded that limit. The current political environment does not excuse remaining silent when a candidate for president is referred to as a "terrorist" in their presence. A desire to win does not excuse remaining silent during a threat on the life of a U.S. Senator at one of their rallies. There are no excuses for evil such as this. John McCain and Sarah Palin, the GOP, and all who support them were one step short of inciting violence at their rallies. They were letting physical threats go unchallenged.

“… when the Republican campaign, mired in desperation, deliberately stokes the fires of hate and fear, using disgusting lies to argue that Obama is literally dangerous, no one should be surprised when the far-right Republican base becomes frenzied…. The responsible thing for McCain and Palin to do would be to turn down the temperature a bit and insist, in no uncertain terms, that they have no tolerance for the kind of ugliness Americans have been recently observing from the GOP.” Steve Benen, The Washington Monthly.

Sarah Palin said that from now until Election Day it may get kind of rough. Kind of rough? The McCain campaign seems to be counting on prejudice and racism. They are picking up where Hillary left off, but have gone much, much farther. They have been presiding over hate rallies where people feel free to yell out murderous threats as the candidates laugh it off and keep giving their speeches, essentially endorsing such mentality.

John McCain’s and Sarah Palin’s constant incendiary attacks against Obama have been producing verbal responses from audiences that demonstrate the danger of such vicious grandstanding. McCain and Palin seem to be inciting extremists within our own country to follow a disturbing path. Once you’ve aroused a lynch mob, it’s hard to stay in charge. McCain may think that it’s the usual political fun and games, but McCain and his pit-bull gal may have unleashed emotions in their followers that they can’t control. Once people are shouting “Treason!” “Terrorist!” and “Kill him!” it’s difficult to tell them to calm down. And if those emotions boil over into violence against America’s first black presidential nominee, the results will be a disaster of unimaginable proportions. Do McCain and Palin really want to be partly responsible for an assassination attempt?

For McCain, this is repugnant behavior, unworthy of respect, unworthy of being in the White House, unworthy of being the leader of the free world.