Whether you choose to believe the rhetoric or not, Barack Obama’s message of “hope” and “change” is inspiring this country in an unprecedented way. He raised an astonishing $150 million this September, and recently held rallies in St. Louis and Kansas City with crowds of 100,000 and 75,000 respectively. Obama keeps his attacks on McCain to policies and political decisions, and spends the majority of his time talking about positive reform; he’s also never publicly questioned John McCain’s character or his ability to serve his country.
The McCain-Palin rallies stand in sharp contrast. The racism that has been catalyzed by the McCain campaign’s message and narrative is disgraceful. His campaign message has become, to use his own words, “who is the real Barack Obama?”
The line of thought McCain wants Americans to follow is frightening: He might be a terrorist. He’s been “palling around” with them. Have you heard his name? Barack Hussein Obama? He might be a Muslim. Have you forgotten about 9/11? This man wants to sit down at the table with the people who supported it. Have you seen his black pastor? He hates America. Can we trust Obama? Is he a real American?
In a country already extremely sensitive to matters of race and religion (especially Islam), the McCain campaign is actively encouraging people to question Obama’s identity in an attempt to build a severely distorted narrative about him. When their own vice presidential candidate is saying Obama is friends with terrorists and implying that he harbors intense resentment for America, what does the campaign expect their middle and southern American base to do?
If the Republicans are earnestly concerned about the Bill Ayers connection, they can discuss it with civility. But instead they use loaded words and names like “terrorist” and “Hussein,” knowing full well their weight in post-9/11 America.
The McCain campaign isn’t campaigning on issues. They’re taking Karl Rove election tactics to a new and dangerous level. McCain knows perfectly well that Obama is not a threat: he’s a highly respected American senator. But with McCain’s poll numbers looking increasingly bleak just weeks before the election, he’s doing his best to turn Obama into “the other.” This otherization allows unsure voters to project whatever they want onto Obama. All it takes is one small seed to be planted, and fear and rumors can spread rapidly.
What separates this campaign from all the other terrible election tactics of the past is that this campaign is indirectly (but consciously) encouraging racism, xenophobia, and fear on a national scale. Not only that, but the campaign is banking on the fact that this tactic will mobilize enough people to win the election for John McCain. Every person in this country knows about this election, and everyone has an opinion. But these tactics could lead to violence, and if we have to look back in retrospect to the cause, it will be unmistakably clear.
The videos circulating the internet of the crowds at McCain-Palin rallies are a frightening testament to the hate the Republicans have been stirring up. The “lone nuts” who shout things like “terrorist” or “kill him” can no longer be written off as isolated incidents because more and more are joining their ranks.
A video posted on YouTube by a group called Keystone Progress showed disturbing scenes at a Palin rally in Johnstown, PA on October 12. One man held up a stuffed toy monkey with an Obama sticker head-wrap shouted, “This is little Hussein.” Other people waiting in line to enter the rally shouted the following within the camera’s range: “Hussein Mohammad Obama!” “Obama bin Laden!” “Al Qaeda for Obama!” “Born in Kenya, citizen of Indonesia! Kill some more babies you bastard!” “Baby-killer!”
Just a few weeks ago, Virginia Republican Chairman Jeff Fredrick stood up on a chair at McCain headquarters to address 30 volunteers. He instructed them to go door-to-door and emphasize the connection between Barack Obama and Osama bin Laden: “They both have friends that bombed the Pentagon—that’s scary.” Another volunteer said, “And he won’t salute the flag.” This prompted another man to say, “We don’t even know where [he] was really born.”
And this was all with a reporter from Time magazine in the room. If this was said weeks ago by a high-level McCain official in a battle-ground state with a national, mainstream press reporter clearly present, it is frightening to wonder what the regular McCain-Palin supporters are currently saying behind closed doors, and what they are now willing to do with a McCain victory slipping out of sight.