Sunday, October 12, 2008

Tiger by the Tail: McCain/Palin Campaign of Fear Works Too Well

I remember as a little boy hearing a missionary at my church tell a story about a political rally he’d witnessed in Romania, sometime in the years leading up to the revolution. As President Nicolae Ceauşescu spoke, one woman out of the masses had the courage to speak up. “Liar!” she shouted. “You’re a liar!” And she spat on the ground in disgust, before promptly being carried away, likely never to be heard from again.

The late Communist President of Romania, Nicolae Ceausescu, who had the good fortune not to have to call himself out on his own lies.
This week, confronted with the sobering fact that none of the attendees of McCain/Palin rallies had a similar courage to call the nominees out on their lies and demagoguery, John McCain finally had to step up to the plate and do it himself. Let me say that again: he repudiated himself.

I’d like to say I was happy to see “the old McCain” make a rare reappearance, peeking out like a little like a fleeting whack-a-mole before disappearing again beneath the tide of negativism that has overwhelmed his campaign.

But for at least two weeks now, Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin, trailing in the polls, have been beating the drum that Sen. Obama is the candidate of false gods, palls around with terrorists, supports the killing of babies born alive in failed abortions, is funded by “foreigners,” doesn’t love his country, doesn’t support the troops, and condones the damnation of America by Rev. Wright. Their surrogates have been comparing Obama to Osama bin Laden, referring to Obama by including his loaded-word middle name – “Let’s leave Barack HUSSEIN Obama wondering what happened” – and calling him “a guy of the street.” Somehow I don’t think they mean Main Street.

After mentioning all these things, McCain’s been connecting the cognitive dots for his followers by asking over and over at rallies, “Who IS the real Barack Obama?”

Responding to these highly developed Rorsach inkblot tests, McCain/Palin followers and other GOP supporters have been heard screaming “terrorist,” “traitor,” and “treason” at the merest mention of Barack Obama. Some, in a violent fervor, have screamed racial epithets at the media crews. Others have yelled, “Off with his head!” Still others have dispensed with politeness altogether and apoplectically ejaculated, “Kill him!” and “Bomb him!”

When McCain has clearly heard the charges at his rallies before, he's not missed a beat. And they've clearly had tons of opportunities to condemn these things after learning about them later, even if they didn't hear them at the time. So McCain pretending to put “country first” and stick up for Obama now is a little like throwing a match on a gasoline spill in a garage, and then blowing on it and pretending you don’t know how it got there.

Now, don’t mistake me. I think it’s important to know everything we can about the candidates. The problem is that this territory has been gone over very thoroughly by the press and in umpteen debates. Most of us know more about Barack Obama’s life now than we do about our own cousins. This rehashing of old non-news is about nothing more than equivocation, circumlocution, innuendo, thinly veiled inflammation, and the overall trashing of Barack Obama.

Any person who’s ever sat through a Communications 101 class knows that for there to be a communication, you have to have a sender, a receiver, and a message. To be an effective communication, the message that the receiver hears must bear strong resemblance to the one the sender intended to relay.

In this best-case scenario, John McCain and Sarah Palin are dangerously inept at sending messages. At worst, they are brilliantly effective at communicating exactly the messages they intended to. Either way, their conduct is shockingly unbecoming at least someone of McCain’s stature, and it’s definitely an insult to the eternal dignity and the present distress of the American people.

I come from a long line of very sincere and credulous conservatives who love God and country, but who sadly put more faith in Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly than in verifiable facts. I have two sainted Grandmas, one of whom believes that doctors no longer give B-12 vitamin shots because “the immigrants took them,” the other of whom believes that Barack Obama may be the Antichrist. And my own Dad persists, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, in believing that Obama is a secret Muslim.

They are not senile, and they are not making things up. They believe it with all their hearts, just as surely as I believe that the atomic number of hydrogen is 1. I get frustrated with them, but I get angry at the people who feed them this misinformation in order to benefit from their belief – higher ratings, bigger paychecks, and victorious elections. To what I believe will be his eternal discredit, John McCain has decided to become one of those people.

With Michael Dukakis and the “Willie Horton ad,” the Republicans said he’d be weak on crime and played to people’s racial discomfort. With John Kerry, Republicans painted him as weak on national security and terrorism. Now, afraid to leave anything to the imagination, Republicans and the McCain/Palin campaign have all but stated that Barack Obama is a criminal, a terrorist, and a racist. What a sad day for a once-great party.

In criminal law, there are two doctrines that defendants often have a hard time wrapping their brains around. One, the felony murder doctrine, says that if someone dies during the commission of a felony like kidnapping or armed robbery, the kidnappers are on the hook for first-degree murder, regardless of intent. If you and your buddy rob a convenience store, and the store clerk pulls out a sawed-off shotgun and kills your buddy, guess who’s going to prison for murder? You. Why? Because when you play with fire like that, you ought to know that somebody could get killed.

The other doctrine is accountability, which says that you are responsible for the conduct of another when you solicit, aid, abet, agree or attempt to aid the other person’s commission of the offense. So for instance, if your buddy says to you, “Man, I’d like to rob a convenience store,” and you let him borrow your gun, you’re going to be accountable for that robbery. And if the clerk shoots your friend, guess what? Felony murder and accountability work together to make you guilty of murder, even if you’re sitting at home eating Doritos. The law makes you responsible not only for things that you know, but for things that you should know.

What’s my point? My point is that this country, in the midst of two wars and a hemorrhaging economy, is on edge. People are nervous about the present, let alone the future. And let’s be frank: even well-meaning people are nervous about the specter of the first black president, whose name has the bad fortune of sounding like BOTH of America’s arch-enemies. This is a time to tread very, very lightly on the tense tightrope of the American people’s fears.

And besides the fact that it’s doing nothing to resolve any of our several crises, the McCain/Palin rhetoric is fanning the flames of resentment, of hatred, and of abject terror, aiding and abetting some of the most extreme elements and violent tendencies in our populace. If they didn’t know about the volatility of those tendencies, they should have known, as any reasonable person familiar with American history undoubtedly does. (See, exempli gratia, Abraham, Martin, John, and Bobby. Not to mention James and William, and very nearly Franklin, Harry, Jerry, and Ronald.)

It’s simply not credible now for the McCain/Palin camp to try to wash its hands of this nastiness. This is a monster of their own creation, and they ought to own up to it.

1 comment:

lakeshoredrive75 said...

Right on. I'm losing track of how many reasons there are to proclaim "Enough!" This reason hits me in a really visceral way though.