On Monday, I wrote this about a surprisingly ugly McCain-Palin campaign rally in New Mexico that I watched on CSPAN:
[T]he crowd was furious. You would have thought Barack Obama stole their kids’ lunch money. They weren’t cheering, they were clamoring. They were shouting things out, at times interrupting McCain mid-sentence. It didn’t look so much like a political rally as it did an angry mob.
In the last few days, as the rhetoric of John McCain and Sarah Palin has grown more and more heated, so have the crowds. During that rally in New Mexico, John McCain asked, “Who is the real Barack Obama?” Someone in the crowd shouted out, “A terrorist!” That same day in Florida, as Sarah Palin twisted Obama’s relationship with Bill Ayers into evidence of some kind of secret hatred for America, a man in the crowd shouted, “Kill him!” (The Secret Service is investigating that incident.) Another Palin supporter at that rally ”shouted a racial epithet at an African-American sound man from a network and told him to, ‘Sit down, boy.’”
Today, we get video of a blogger who interviewed the crowd outside a McCain-Palin rally in Ohio. Here’s what it looks like from the ground:
This is the fruit of the increasingly dishonorable, increasingly disgusting campaign being run by John McCain. There’s nothing wrong with attacking your opponent’s character in a closely contested and heated election. But McCain’s message isn’t that Barack Obama will be a bad president, it’s that Barack Obama harbors a secret resentment against his country, associates with terrorists, and will deliberately harm America.
First of all, McCain knows none of that is true. He’s simply looking to gain political support by, sadly and cynically, appealing to the ugliest fears and prejudices of some Americans. Second, McCain is a grown man who understands fully the ramifications of pushing this kind of message against the first African-American major party nominee for president. This is the United States of America, and we have a history of mentally unbalanced loners who somehow became convinced that one of their country’s leaders wanted to deliberately harm America. We also have a history of virulent racism. And there’s no telling what the combination of those two dangerous factors could unleash. John McCain was 27 years old and serving in the Navy when John F. Kennedy was shot. He knows the ramifications.
Everyone knows “Country First” has become just a cheap political slogan to McCain; the Palin VP pick, his campaign’s deliberate disruption of the bailout negotiations, and now his latest storm of rhetoric against Barack Obama has made that crystal clear. But if John McCain has even a shred of honor left, he will stop insinuating that Obama intends to deliberately harm America. He will drop the Bill Ayers nonsense, he will drop the patriotism garbage– keep in mind that none of these attacks are moving the polls– and he will instruct his wife to stop telling people that Obama tried to get her sons killed.
If John McCain has even a shred of honor left, he will start running his campaign based on issues, not political stunts and divisive hate-mongering. There’s a reason why people are shouting “Kill him!” at McCain rallies, and it’s not because John McCain is telling them Obama will raise their taxes.
UPDATE: I changed the title of this post to better reflect the bottom line. (The original title was “McCain-Palin rallies turning into angry mobs”) The problem isn’t that McCain-Palin crowds are turning angry. A lot of political rallies are angry. John Edwards entire 2008 campaign was fueled by populist anger. The problem is that McCain’s new strategy is essentially accusing Obama of treason and putting his life in danger– much moreso than it already is, as a black man running for president. The problem is that McCain’s new Ayers strategy is, for some Americans, a literal call to arms.
Let’s break this down a bit. In 2001, shortly after 9/11, President Bush did not declare war on a country or an organization; he declared war on terror. Nevermind that Bill Ayers and Osama bin Laden and Timothy McVeigh and Shia militias have no connection whatsoever, in means or motives. We’re at war with terrorists. You’re with us or you’re with them. So in light of the last seven years of American political rhetoric, accusing Barack Obama of “palling around with terrorists” is a truly dangerous, despicable proposition. At best, McCain is accusing Obama of being sympathetic to those who would do us harm; at worst, a treasonous enemy of America himself.
There’s a lot of mystery surrounding the assassination of JFK, but it was almost certainly the accusations by political rivals that he was a Communist sympathizer– too soft on Castro and Khruschev– that fueled the forces behind his death. It was then, as it is now, only a matter of time before somebody got the message. The fact that John McCain– a man who was serving in our military when JFK was shot– is leveling these same types of accusations at another presidential candidate is unforgivable.
A lot of media outlets are beating around the bush with this story. They’re reporting what’s happening at these McCain-Palin rallies, they’re even condemning the hostile atmosphere, but they’re not saying what needs to be said. They’re not taking these shouts of “Terrorist!” and “Kill him!” to their logical conclusion, as the Secret Service apparently is. The criticism of McCain’s new strategy should not be about whether it will move the polls or whether it will help him win an election, it should be about the dark forces McCain is willing to unleash for the sake of political gain. It should be about the continuity of American government, the life of a presidential candidate, and the incalculable damage that John McCain is risking to the country that he claims to always put first.
UPDATE #2: An Israeli reader at Andrew Sullivan’s blog draws a chilling parallel to recent events:
Your post on “The Danger of Obama” immediately brought to mind what happened here in Israel in the period leading up to Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination. Even allowing for the differences in political culture between the two countries, some of the sounds we’re hearing in the public debate around the election have a haunting echo. Here no one would have thought it possible that an Israeli Jew would take the life of a high official. There’s little doubt that the crescendo of demonization toward Rabin – including accusations of treason, flyers picturing Rabin as an SS officer – and the difficulty, in a society guaranteeing free speech, of ‘civilizing’ the public debate before it creates a fertile bed for actual violence, all helped create the context in which Rabin’s murderer decided to take matters into his own hands.
I’d like to see which Republicans will denounce this turn towards demonization.
UPDATE #3: At the risk of making this post unreadably long, Ta-Nehisi Coates draws another fascinating parallel in a post titled “The Unthinkable.” This time, Martin Luther King, Jr.:
When the McCain campaign cast the spell of diabolical jingoism, they have no idea of the forces they are toying with. We remember Martin Luther King’s murder as a sad and tragic event. Less remembered is the fact that ground-work for King’s murder was seeded, not simply by rank white supremacy, but by people who slandered King as a communist.
This is the ghost that McCain Campaign is summoning. This is the Ring Of Power that they want to wield. The Muslim charge, the “Hussein” thing is nothing more than today’s red-baiting, and it is what it was then–a cover for racists. You may say I’m overreacting, and I really hope you’re right. 999,000 out 1 million times we’ll go on like normal and proceed to Election Day. But if some shit pops off, the thug and thug-mongers will not be able to throw up their hands and say “How could I have known?” Ignorance will not save them. Their stupidity is a scourge on us all.