Just Say It: The Race-Baiting Tactics Of John McCain And Sarah Palin Are ReprehensibleMost people in this country would like to believe that visceral hatred for one's fellow Americans — including racism — is limited to a small number of radicals on either end of the political spectrum, or maybe to certain areas of the country. The truth is — as some of us are having to confront this week — that it's simply untrue. So-called normal people can go wild-eyed and start spouting shit off the likes of which one would think would be confined to Arkham or parody, while others will holler things like "Kill him!" at political rallies because they feel like they're safe to do so. And, if the behavior of John McCain and Sarah Palin (along with the mainstream media) this week is any indication, they are pretty safe from repercussion. And that's fucking scary.The new hallmark of McCain and Palin rallies is anger: anger stemming from the increasingly likelihood of an Obama win, as the more generous writers at Politico have put it; or from frustration at the media, according to Time; or at Democrats and the bailout more generally, as the New York Times sees it. Well, as I and plenty of other people, including Greg Sargent at Talking Points Memo, see it, it's time to stop pretending that this is some grassroots anger movement. This is something that the McCain campaign was counting on, planning for, deliberately fomenting and is happy to see happening. Don't believe me? Let's go to the video. When the worst of this began at McCain and Palin rallies on Monday, the talking point from the surrogates was that there was no evidence that the candidates heard their supporters shout "Terrorist!" or "Kill him!." Watch the videos — it's not only audible from where the television cameras are, it's plain as day that both candidates heard it. In another video, Sarah Palin addresses a different guy shouting "Terrorist!" with "Bless your heart" and remarks that her son is in Iraq protecting his right to say those things. That's not exactly calling off the dogs. At another rally, she even acknowledges a different guy calling her "a hottie" — but, then, she chastises him and asks him to stop. And McCain let another supporter rant on about "socialists" and "hooligans" taking over "our country" yesterday. The candidates have had numerous, direct opportunities to interrupt their stump speeches and call for an end to the increasingly vitriolic and hate-filled speech of their supporters and have no only declined to do so, but continued to encourage it. And the media is letting them — by saying things like "emotions are running high" on both sides of the aisle or by declining to call a spade a spade. This is not purple Band-Aids and flip-flops, this is not "George Bush is a war criminal and should be prosecuted." This is also not simple name calling: calling someone a traitor, or accusing him of treason, calling "off with his head" is a call for someone's death, not an effort to mock or simply belittle him. This is hate speech, this is, in some cases, a series of threats against people's lives and they should be stopped, immediately and directly by the candidates, who should say without equivocation that such speech and such threats are not welcome. But they won't, because this is the new McCain strategy: portray Obama as the outsider, the threat to America, the guy cavorting with terrorists — who, in the minds' eyes of many of these people, are not white college professors, let's add —, the one who doesn't understand the "real" America. This is code for "white" America. The McCain campaign is using some horrible, twisted fear that apparently lives in the hearts of too many Americans that there are two Americas (as John Edwards said) and that they are a white one and a black one, a good one and a bad one, an honorable one and a hooliganish one, a democratic one and a socialist one. And there is a time and a place to give people the benefit of the doubt, and there is a time and a place for the media to stand up and say: we know your faces, we know what you are and we reject you. But if the regular media won't stand up and say something, there are people that will. John Kerry had the courage to call it by its name today: hate speech. Paul Krugman says that if it doesn't stop, if it isn't stopped, "I wouldn't be surprised to see some violence." That's Anna's fear, too, and not just violence aimed at Obama, either. She's concerned that if these people are allowed to see their anger as legitimate, if they're allowed to see their racism as acceptable, and if they lose and have no outlet for their frustrated, impotent rage, then they'll take it out on someone, "whether it's Obama or some kid walking down the street." Would it surprise you to see one of the people on those videos involved in a hate crime, really? The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates can show you the origins of this kind of race-baiting in Republicans, back to Jerry Falwell's hate speech and the assassination of Martin Luther King. When I asked him about it today, he said, "I don't know if [McCain and Palin] are or aren't [doing it on purpose]. It does scare me, it makes me very very very sad. These people have no other answers—they really think 'we're going down because ACORN got a bunch of housing loans for niggers.' It's just sad." Carmen over at Racialicious wants to ask white voters if we are happy being stereotyped by McCain and his coterie as "closed-minded, paranoid, naive, xenophobic, and just a tad bit racist." Not that there aren't those of us out there who are — we can't look around today and deny that, or blame it on The South when we're watching people from Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania foaming with rage — but we don't have to condone their behavior and their beliefs with our silence. Even Republicans recognize this for what it is. Frank Schaeffer, a former McCain staffer from his 2000 run, thinks McCain knows exactly what he's doing with all his coded talk about race and says,
Stop! Think! Your rallies are beginning to look, sound, feel and smell like lynch mobs. John McCain, you're walking a perilous line. If you do not stand up for all that is good in America and declare that Senator Obama is a patriot, fit for office, and denounce your hate-filled supporters when they scream out "Terrorist" or "Kill him," history will hold you responsible for all that follows.
Yeah, he said the l-word. Isn't that what we've all been thinking when we watch those videos? Andrew Sullivan says, "This is getting close to the atmosphere stoked by the Israeli far right before the assassination of Rabin. For God's sake, McCain, stop it. For once in this campaign, put your country first." Michelle Laxalt doesn't think it's McCain that needs to put his country first so much as his staffers who are driving this strategy — and, in her opinion, ruining Sarah Palin by sending her out to do their dirty, racist dirty work, as she said on Larry King Live last night: Even conservative idol Ronald Reagan would be disgusted, Laxalt adds: Luckily, some prominent Republicans are acknowledging that this is a dangerous, stupid, foolhardy and (one hopes) ultimately ineffective strategy. Even if you want to assume that McCain's base is made up of the sorts of people who buy into the stereotypes, the terrorist-talk and the race-baiting — which, to be fair, there are plenty of Republicans who do not believe these things — those people not only don't make up a majority of the electorate, they kind of scare the fuck out of the rest of us who do. So it's time for McCain and Palin and Steve Schmidt and Rick Davis to pull their collective heads out of their asses, stop pretending that they don't hear what people are shouting and find a way to lose with some fucking grace. Because their supporters who do this will go exactly as far as they think their idols will approve of them going and, if this week is any indication, for some people that is further back than anyone in this country should want them to go. UPDATE: McCain's campaign has a response to their angry, race-baiting supporters: Obama just doesn't understand them. No, for real, that's their response. Senior [white people] adviser Nicole Wallace said, "[The African-American] Barack Obama's assault on our [beloved white] supporters is insulting and unsurprising. These are the same people Obama called 'bitter' and attacked for 'clinging to guns' and faith," because it's always a good idea to remind angry, violent, racist mobs about their firearms. Spokesman Brian Rogers said, "Barack Obama's attacks on [white, racist] Americans who support John McCain reveal far more about him than they do about John McCain. It is clear that Barack Obama just doesn't understand regular [white] people and the [white] issues they care about [because he's a black man. Black!]." Fuck these people. Anger Is Crowd's Overarching Emotion at McCain Rally [Washington Post] Panic Attacks: Voters Unload At GOP Rallies [Politico] How Ugly Is It? [Time] McCain Joins Attacks On Obama Over Radical [NY Times] Note To News Orgs: McCain And Palin Are Largely Responsible For Unhinged Tone At Their Rallies [Talking Points Memo] Obama Hatred At McCain-Palin Rallies: "Terrorist!" "Kill Him!" [Huffington Post] Sarah Palin to Protester - Bless Your Heart [You Tube] Sarah Palin: Rally 10/08/08 [YouTube] McCain Supporter Rants About "Hooligan" Obama And "Socialist" Takeover — And McCain Agrees [Talking Points Memo] Driving the Rally Story [Politico] Not About The Financial Crisis [NY Times] The Unthinkable [Ta-Nehisi Coates] An Open Letter To White Voters, Or What McCain Really Thinks Of You [Racialicious] McCain's Attacks Fuel Dangerous Hatred [Baltimore Sun] The Dangerous Panic On The Far Right [Andrew Sullivan] McCain Camp Defends the Behavior? [MSNBC]