Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Who is the real Barack Obama?

McCain calls out to the crowd, "Who is the real Barack Obama?"

"Terrorist!" replies a man in the crowd. (video)

That this outburst occurred on Monday should come as no surprise. It is the answer that the McCain campaign elicits by way of its latest smearing of Obama.

On Monday, Sarah Palin drew attention to Obama's acquaintance with a 1960s radical, suggesting Obama's political career started in a terrorists' living room. This is what happened at that Palin rally on Monday:

“Now it turns out, one of his earliest supporters is a man named Bill Ayers,” Palin said.

“Boooo!” said the crowd.

“And, according to the New York Times, he was a domestic terrorist and part of a group that, quote, ‘launched a campaign of bombings that would target the Pentagon and our U.S. Capitol,’” she continued.

“Boooo!” the crowd repeated.

“Kill him!” proposed one man in the audience.

Also on Monday a sheriff in Florida used Barack Obama’s middle name "Hussein" -- snarling it -- when introducing Sarah Palin to a crowd.

The recent reactions of McCain supporters point to where this kind of electioneering quickly leads. And it is not a pretty place.

McCain has already provided some indication of the depth of his contempt for Obama. For example, McCain refused to look at Obama even once during the debate. McCain has leveled the accusation that Obama's opposition to the surge in Iraq was a politically motivated stunt. The venom of McCain's language has been matched by his running mate's contemptuous sneers when this topic comes up. When the campaign channels demeaning sentiments into a smear campaign, the result was described as an appeal to racism Monday by Douglas K. Daniels of Associated Press:

Palin's words avoid repulsing voters with overt racism. But is there another subtext for creating the false image of a black presidential nominee "palling around" with terrorists while assuring a predominantly white audience that he doesn't see their America?

In a post-Sept. 11 America, terrorists are envisioned as dark-skinned radical Muslims, not the homegrown anarchists of Ayers' day 40 years ago. With Obama a relative unknown when he began his campaign, the Internet hummed with false e-mails about ties to radical Islam of a foreign-born candidate.

Whether intended or not by the McCain campaign, portraying Obama as "not like us" is another potential appeal to racism. It suggests that the Hawaiian-born Christian is, at heart, un-American.

Whereas the attacks will appeal to American racists, when you take into account the sum of the various smear tactics, overall the effect -- if not the planned intent -- of the strategy is the dehumanization of Obama. As recently as September, McCain commercials portrayed Obama as a pervert.

A large number of right wing fanatics are convinced Obama is a Muslim. Outrageous theories about the candidate are widely shared. McCain and Palin inflame the twisted ideas of the most unbalanced and ignorant of their supporters through their new choice of strategy. When McCain insists on launching attacks against Obama "the man" -- rather than Obama "the candidate" -- McCain and Palin feed the dangerous element in right wing American politics. This is not speculation. Hear that supporter cry out "terrorist." It is happening now.

Viewed within this context, it should not come as a surprise that on Monday, the McCain-Palin campaign announced that reporters would no longer be permitted to talk to their supporters at rallies. With a new more vicious effort to smear Obama underway, their supporters are responding in kind.

They play with fire.

Graphic: the Chinese ideograph for "fire."
Photo: by Jotman. I took this photo of Obama's so-called "madrasah" on a trip to Jakarta, Indonesia. See this post for my first-hand investigation of the allegation.
Update: WaPo reports, "Palin supporters turned on reporters in the press area, waving thunder sticks and shouting abuse. Others hurled obscenities at a camera crew. One Palin supporter shouted a racial epithet at an African American sound man for a network and told him, 'Sit down, boy."

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