Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Is this Really What We Want to Hear from Pennsylvania Avenue?

Over the past few weeks, the McCain/Palin campaign has injected an element into the political discourse that is scarily reminiscent of a very, sad period in US history. And I find myself asking the question, If the McCain/Palin campaign will stoop to this level to win an election what can we expect if they are given the bully pulpit of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?

McCain and Palin aren't fooling anyone with their debate buzz words, suggestive campaign ads, and carefully crafted campaign rhetoric. It is clear that they are pulling out all stops to win an election by appealing to the racial fears and prejudices in a fringe element of society.

In "An Open Letter to John McCain" Frank Schaeffer wrote:

Senator John McCain: If your campaign does not stop equating Sen. Barack Obama with terrorism, questioning his patriotism and portraying Mr. Obama as "not one of us," I accuse you of deliberately feeding the most unhinged elements of our society the red meat of hate, and therefore of potentially instigating violence.

At a Sarah Palin rally, someone called out, "Kill him!" At one of your rallies, someone called out, "Terrorist!" Neither was answered or denounced by you or your running mate, as the crowd laughed and cheered. At your campaign event Wednesday in Bethlehem, Pa., the crowd was seething with hatred for the Democratic nominee - an attitude encouraged in speeches there by you, your running mate, your wife and the local Republican chairman.


In his op-ed for NYT, "The Terrorist Barack Obama" Frank Rich writes:

All’s fair in politics. John McCain and Sarah Palin have every right to bring up William Ayers, even if his connection to Obama is minor, even if Ayers’s Weather Underground history dates back to Obama’s childhood, even if establishment Republicans and Democrats alike have collaborated with the present-day Ayers in educational reform. But it’s not just the old Joe McCarthyesque guilt-by-association game, however spurious, that’s going on here. Don’t for an instant believe the many mindlessly “even-handed” journalists who keep saying that the McCain campaign’s use of Ayers is the moral or political equivalent of the Obama campaign’s hammering on Charles Keating.

What makes them different, and what has pumped up the Weimar-like rage at McCain-Palin rallies, is the violent escalation in rhetoric, especially (though not exclusively) by Palin. Obama “launched his political career in the living room of a domestic terrorist.” He is “palling around with terrorists” (note the plural noun). Obama is “not a man who sees America the way you and I see America.” Wielding a wildly out-of-context Obama quote, Palin slurs him as an enemy of American troops.

By the time McCain asks the crowd “Who is the real Barack Obama?” it’s no surprise that someone cries out “Terrorist!” The rhetorical conflation of Obama with terrorism is complete. It is stoked further by the repeated invocation of Obama’s middle name by surrogates introducing McCain and Palin at these rallies. This sleight of hand at once synchronizes with the poisonous Obama-is-a-Muslim e-mail blasts and shifts the brand of terrorism from Ayers’s Vietnam-era variety to the radical Islamic threats of today.

That’s a far cry from simply accusing Obama of being a guilty-by-association radical leftist. Obama is being branded as a potential killer and an accessory to past attempts at murder. “Barack Obama’s friend tried to kill my family” was how a McCain press release last week packaged the remembrance of a Weather Underground incident from 1970 — when Obama was 8.

We all know what punishment fits the crime of murder, or even potential murder, if the security of post-9/11 America is at stake. We all know how self-appointed “patriotic” martyrs always justify taking the law into their own hands.

Maria Niles shares the following insights on the impact of the McCain/Palin rhetoric in her post "The Political Rhetoric of Race and Racism Invokes Historical Perspective and Potential Backlash":

This type of othering has moved from email rumor campaigns to much more explicit and public expressions. The Mayor of Fort Mill, South Carolina sought scriptural backup for the rumor that Obama is the antichrist. In North Carolina a real estate agency put up a sign reading "Obsama-Obama. Not American. Not Welcome." Karen Tumulty, in Time magazine, reports that The Virginia state GOP chairman urged volunteers to compare Barack Obama to Osama bin Laden as they go campaigning door to door. Recently at a John McCain town hall appearance a woman told McCain that she could not trust Obama because she read that "he's an Arab." McCain did take the microphone from the woman and say that it was not true but unfortunately did so in a way that implied that Arab people are not decent family people as BlogHer member, ManagementProf noted. And Rochelle Nelson at Sagacious Rambling reports that the woman who made the statement about Obama remains unconvinced despite McCain's rebuttal.

Of course, over the past few days McCain and Palin have toned down their rhetoric at bit. But the damage has been done as discussed in the following video from "Hardball With Chris Matthews":

Do Americans really want to hear the type of rhetoric that McCain and Palin are using for the next eight years?

In a recent email Robert Greenwald of BraveNewFilms asked everyone who thinks that the McCain/Palin rhetoric is offensive, unacceptable and dangerous to speak up. Greewald writes:

"Instead of discussing the real issues plaguing Americans, McCain and Palin have turned to fear-mongering and race-baiting, stoking the prejudices of their supporters. The situation has become so critical that we've teamed up with Color of Change to put an end to these dangerous mob scenes.

Watch the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U5mdIPNB8t8

Things have gotten so out of control that some conservatives have come forward to denounce McCain and Palin's hate-mongering. In an Op-Ed for The Baltimore Sun, Frank Schaeffer writes: "John McCain: If your campaign does not stop equating Sen. Barack Obama with terrorism, questioning his patriotism and portraying Mr. Obama as "not one of us," I accuse you of deliberately feeding the most unhinged elements of our society the red meat of hate, and therefore of potentially instigating violence."

Here's how you can take action:

1. Sign the open letter calling on McCain and Palin to reject the politics of hate.
2. Sign up for a free video subscription and get the latest on the real McCain.
3. Send this video to yours friends, and post it on your blogs and networking sites like Digg, where it will effectively reach those outside the choir.

Don't let McCain and Palin undo the decades spent fighting for civil rights and equality in our country."

Video by Brave New Films:

Lest you think that this is all "much ado about nothing" consider this.

Last Friday voters in Rensselear County in upstate New York received absentee ballots with the name "Barack Osama" as the Democratic choice for the US Presidency. Local elections officials are calling this an "unfortunate typo". But as blogger Anita Lane points out in a post for The Political Voices of Women:
" Let me say it up front: Yes, Rensselaer County is a Republican led county. However, there were supposedly three proofreaders and no one caught the error before the absentee ballot went out to over 300 residents.

Certainly, no one expects stupid errors on a simple ballot with names we’ve all become extremely familiar with. I suspect the person who typed the ballot assumed right—that no one would be paying close enough attention to notice until it was too late.

What could incite an American—let alone a New Yorker—more than being asked to vote for Osama? By the way, the letter “s” is no where near the letter “b” on the keyboard. The “s” is typed with the middle finger of the left hand and the “b” with the index finger.

A more accurate “typo” would have been “Onama”, “Ovama” or “Ogama.” Nah… those don’t have the same effect—and they certainly would have been caught."

Things do have a way of escalating.

Is this really the message that you want to hear from Pennsylvania Avenue for the next eight years?

Yesterday I posted an item on my blog Pam's Coffee Conversation on how Sarah Palin was jeered when she appeared at a recent Philadelphia Flyers hockey game. Shortly after a fellow blogger, new friend and a Republican :-) and I began an open, honest and civil discussion about public behavior, political rhetoric and race relations. Of course, I saw this as a learning opportunity and a chance for a real dialogue,

So earlier today I invited a few friends from various political, racial, gender, age, national, ethnic and professional backgrounds to share their thoughts on this topic.

Now I invite you to add your comments, post a reference to a related article, pose a question, and/or be open to reading the comments of others. Also, if you are a fellow blogger, feel free to link to related posts on your blogs.

For those of you who are new to this:

  • you can begin by click on the link "Hockey mom Sarah Palin boo'd at hockey game.
  • Scroll down the page and then click on the link entitled "Post A Comment"
  • You don't have to have a Blogger ID to log on you can log on with an OpenID (from yahoo, google, etc.).
  • You can click on the option to "Preview" your comment before you publish it.
  • Once you're satisfied with you comment just click on "Publish" and you're done. That's all there is to it.
I hope that you'll consider participating in this discussion or stopping by later and reading the posts. It may confirm what I believe that we all have more in common than we have differences.

Pamela Lyn

Related articles:

John McCain Can't Have It Both Ways
by Catherine Morgan for The Political Voices of Women

Sowing Seeds of Hate
by Tami of Tami Said

The Terrorist Barack Hussein Obama

by Frank Rich for NYT

An Open Letter to John McCain
by Frank Schaeffer for HuffPo


  1. Pamela,

    This is an impressive overview of several threads and thoughtful look at their intersections. Thank you for including me and seeking to start a dialog around these difficult questions and issues.

  2. Pam, you have me reading and thinking.

    You might appreciate this essay, written by a friend of mine (he was the best man at my wedding) as he tries to work through the dissonance that he (or we) sometimes feel given the options of two imperfect political parties.

    It's really long, but a worthy read.



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