Saturday, October 11, 2008

How McCain Can Redeem Himself
Beyond Throttling Back The Hatred

So McCain has throttled back on the incitement to hatred a bit. My first inclination is to go all gushy about McCain doing the right thing...but let's face it, this is one small gesture toward undoing a world of harm his campaign has inflicted on the body politic. Furthermore, there now seem to be three levels of vitriol in the McCain campaign: face-to-face with Obama, McCain is only moderately disrespectful; face-to-face with his supporters, McCain is very disrespectful, but comes out against the most overt expressions of hatred and paranoia; in his ads, however, it's still anything goes, and he incites the very attitudes he now--sometimes--claims to oppose.

But throttling back a tad on the fear-mongering and incitement to hatred simply isn't good enough.

McCain is now in a position to do something very, very important for American politics. He could--and he should--turn his attention toward the dissipation of irrational, politically-motivated fear and hatred in America in general and on the right in particular. Having stirred up the darkest forces in American politics, McCain has inadvertently taken us to a "teachable moment." He ought to ask the right to take a look at itself, and to come to recognize and acknowledge its vices. The right must reform itself, for the sake of the country, but also for its own sake.

It is obvious that McCain is wrong, and that American conservatism is plagued by dangerous demons. Even many conservatives--David Brooks, Christopher Buckley, Kathleen Parker, George F. Will, and many others--have been forced by the facts to acknowledge the failings of the McCain/Palin ticket. But more doctrinaire conservatives--who are, almost by definition, less susceptible to being influenced by the facts--are still archly, fanantically, dogmatically asserting the superiority of their team's pick. Krauthammer, Kristol, Limbaugh, and the whole team over at the Corner, continue to chant the cant. As Peirce tells us, assertion has a hypnotic effect, and many conservatives will remain under the spell so long as it continues to be woven. McCain could achieve something truly great if he came out and said something kinda sorta generally and very roughly along these lines:

Everybody stop it. Take a look at yourselves. Take a look at me. Take a look at us. Look what we were doing, and what we were trying to do. Instead of addressing the issues, we egaged in the worst form of character assassination. This is the politics of personal destruction that has poisoned our politics. Look how easy it was for me to slip into it, and how easily you were convinced to follow me. Look how readily our worst tendencies came to the surface, how easy it was to convince ourselves that our worthy opponent was evil--a liar, a terrorist, or worse. Indeed, some of our fellows even suggested--in all seriousness, that our worthy opponent and fellow countryman was the Antichrist himself. This is insanity. Yes, my friends, the conservative movement has gone a little bit insane. We cannot do this. We cannot be this. We have to change. Conservatives must recognize that we are not always right, and liberals are not always wrong. Liberals must learn a similar lesson, but that is not what concerns us here and now. This is time for us to face our demons. We must recognize that liberals are not typically evil, anti-American, unpatriotic, or otherwise morally defective. Divisiveness is destroying our politics, and we must admit that we are largely responsible for stoking its fires. We have to make a firm and immovable resolution to disagree with our opponents respectfully, without demonizing them. We might fight like hell for our policies, but at the end of the day, we are all Americans, and our commitment to democracy means that we must accept the outcome of the political process and come together to work for the common good. It is time that we put the politics of demonization behind us. It is time that we emphasize what is best, rather than what is worst, about American conservatism.

You get the idea.

Thing is, sentiments of the kind that McCain has stired up have a kind of inertia, a kind of staying power. If he just tries to let them dissipate, they won't go back to their pre-surge levels. Instead, he needs to use this moment to actively destroy them, and to do something vitally important for the country. He can take those sentiments and hold them up for examination and criticism, and he can make conservatives better for it in the long run--and, of course, make us a better country for it as well.


Blogger The Mystic said...

Example of your point about these ideas taking on a kind of inertia/staying power:

If this is anything more than a political stunt he's trying in order to dig himself out of the impression most sane people have of him: that he's become exactly the kind of divisive political monster that Obama has been trying to get us all to recognize and fight off - then he's going to have to do a lot more than simply say that he's decent.

He's dug himelf into a hole that's going to take more than that to get out of.

11:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think I see two conservative movements and hence the Republican parties emerging and separating where henceforth they've fused at tenuous points of political overlap. (1) The W.F. Buckley and now the new Neo-Cons a la D. Brooks, and (2) the cultural conservatives who get their "arguments" from the Limbaugh, Hannity, et alia.

I willingly admit that overlaps and divisions are as complex as the individuals who hold them because ...well, individuals are complicated.

But what's no complicated is the true racism and xenophobia behind many of McCain/Palin supporters. The "He's an Arab, terrorist, communist, socialist, etc.," can only be countered and thereby reassure the Brooks faction that the crazy talk isn't their Rebulican party.

But the above fantasy speech by McCain will alienate the angry mob Republicans (aka The Base), and the RNC would rather risk self-destruction than guarantee it. I just don't see the angry mob being capable of self-reflection being so mired in hatred.

A third way could be if Obama remade the Monty Python angry-mob burn-her scenes of witch hunting. Shit, I could write the script: "How do you know he's an Arab?" "He looks like one; look at his skin and his name!"

The country could use a little comic relief right about now. And if we can laugh at ourselves, it just may work.

3:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, I read that the media takes one or 2 people in the crowd and pretends that the whole crowd is saying crap about Obama. And did you stop to think maybe Obama is the one pretending it's a big deal so he can call MCCain people racist or whatever? because thats what it looks like to me because McCain is already doing what you said he should do.
McCain gets boos at GOP rally for defending Obama

* Photos

McClatchy Newspapers

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- John McCain on Friday moved to calm rising anger among his supporters at rival Barack Obama, calling him a decent man and at one point taking the microphone away from a woman who had called Obama an Arab.

Their anger apparently still at flash point, McCain's supporters then booed him for his conciliatory words about Obama.

The abrupt move from McCain at a town hall meeting in Minnesota came after days of rising tensions as McCain and his campaign attacked Obama as a friend of a 1960s radical they called a terrorist.

Increasingly angry, supporters of McCain and running mate Sarah Palin have responded at rallies with loud cries of "terrorist" and "traitor."

At one such rally earlier this week in New Mexico, McCain visibly winced when his mention of Obama's name was greeted by the shout of "terrorist," but the candidate said nothing about it and went on with his speech.

Supporters at the Minnesota town hall meeting pressed McCain to get even tougher on Obama.

But when one man said he was scared to raise his unborn child in a country that might be led by a President Obama, McCain disagreed.

"I have to tell you, he is a decent person and a person that you do not have to be scared of as president of the United States," McCain said to boos and groans from his supporters.

"If you want a fight, we will fight," McCain said. "But we will be respectful. I admire Senator Obama and his accomplishments. . . . I don't mean that has to reduce your ferocity, I just mean to say you have to be respectful."

Later, another supporter told McCain, "I don't trust Obama.... He's an Arab."

McCain stood shaking his head as she spoke, then quickly took the microphone from her.

"No, ma'am," he said. "He's a decent, family man, a citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with."

Campaigning in Ohio hours before, Obama defended his character against the mounting attacks, daring McCain to run as negatively as he wants in the final weeks of the race while predicting that, in light of the financial crisis, "it will not work."

Both candidates responded to the stock market meltdown with new policy proposals. McCain, in Wisconsin, suggested waiving a tax rule requiring that investors begin selling off their IRAs and 401(k)s when they turn 70-and-a-half. Obama, in Ohio, pitched temporarily lifting lending fees and extending fixed-rate loans to small businesses through a Small Business Administration disaster relief fund.

But the dramatic personal nature of the campaign overshadowed those developments.

"We know what's coming, we know what they're going to do," Obama told supporters in Chillicothe and later in Columbus.

McCain's campaign had announced a national TV ad that asserts Obama worked with a "terrorist" when it was politically convenient and then lied about their relationship.

The man, Bill Ayers, is a professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago who in 1995 hosted a candidate event for Obama and was involved with two mainstream charitable groups in which Obama also had been active. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley has praised Ayers as a leading citizen who helped shape the city's innovative schools' program.

In the late 1960s and early '70s, when Obama was a child, Ayers belonged to the radical antiwar group, Weather Underground, which advocated violence and placed bombs at the Pentagon and the Capitol.

McCain's accusation is that Obama understated what he knew about Ayers' past or his beliefs when it suited him. There's no evidence that the two men are close or that Ayers has any connection to Obama's presidential campaign.

At a rally on Thursday, McCain himself used the word "terrorist" to describe Ayers, and many McCain supporters were whipped into a lather as they voiced fear and indignation at Obama's ascent. Many participants chanted "liar, liar" when Obama's name was mentioned.

However, at a Friday morning rally in La Crosse, Wis., McCain seemed to dial back the tone. He didn't mention Ayers, and perhaps his most negative words were to paint Obama as "a Chicago politician."

But McCain's campaign on Friday also organized for the second time this week a conference call featuring John Murtagh, whose family home was firebombed in 1970 because his father, as a New York supreme court justice, had presided over a Black Panthers trial.

Murtagh's father was also threatened in an open 1970 letter signed by Ayers' wife, Bernardine Dohrn - also a former radical from the Vietnam era, now a law professor at Northwestern University. Murtagh said he remains convinced that the couple wanted to kill or hurt his family. He said he doesn't hold Obama responsible, but he thinks that Obama's past comfort level with Ayers shows a "complete lack of judgment."

Earlier in the week, McCain, in New Mexico, insinuated that Obama was hiding aspects of his past, asking, "Who is the real Barack Obama?" McCain did not reference race or religion, but the open-ended question may have stirred voters who believe that Obama, who's Christian, is Muslim because his Kenyan father's family was Muslim.

"Nothing's easier than riling up a crowd by stoking anger and division, but that's not what we need now in the United States," Obama said in Chillicothe and almost verbatim later in Columbus. "The American people aren't looking for someone who can divide this country, they're looking for somebody who will lead this country. Now more than ever it is time to put country ahead of politics."

"They can try to turn the page on the economy, they can try to deny the record of the last eight years," Obama said. "They can run misleading ads, they can pursue the politics of anything goes. It will not work. Not this time."

McCain spokesman Brian Rogers responded that, "Barack Obama just doesn't understand regular people and the issues they care about" and said McCain's character questions were "legitimate" and "vital."

While Obama dared McCain on Friday to keep up his attacks, the Democratic nominee and his supporters took pains Friday to defend Obama's honor.

Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, who introduced Obama in Chillicothe, told the audience, "Barack Obama is a strong, Christian family man. Now why did I share those two things with you this morning? Because the McCain-Palin campaign and unfortunately some of their followers would want you to be afraid of Barack Obama. They want you to believe that he is untested and unknown. I know Barack Obama. I think I know what's in his heart. He is bright, he is capable, he is mature, he is steady. We can trust Barack Obama with Chillicothe, with southern Ohio, with Ohio, with America."

Meanwhile, in Ohio and other battleground states, the Obama campaign was airing an ad that shows old photos of the biracial Democratic nominee with his white mother and white grandparents. Obama often closes his speeches by telling the audience that together they can change the world. In Columbus, he closed, "God bless the United States of America."

9:12 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

It's not isolated, A, it seems to be pretty widespread.

And what McCain's doing now is too little.

You need to look at this objectively, not through a partisan lens.

Months of character assassination and intentionally provoking fury from the nuttiest sectors of the right does not go away after two minutes of lukewarm praise.

11:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


This is hardly "one or two" people in the crowd. Behold: four minutes of racism, xenophobia, and utterly incoherent and unsupported beliefs.*:IE-SearchBox&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&sourceid=ie7&rlz=1I7DMUS&um=1&sa=N&tab=wv#

12:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That was one guy saying something stupid and it was in April You have the partisan lens. You just ignore what your side does. One guy says McCain is a racist like George Wallace and he's a politician not some people in a crowd.
Top of the Ticket

« A Ticket Treat: Palin, Biden, Obama, McCain; Not here, not now | Main | Sarah Palin's husband, Todd Palin, under fire in Troopergate, campaigns in Maine »
What John Lewis' attack on John McCain was really about, and Obama's response

With the number of preelection days dwindling and tempers rising, we had more of the predictable homestretch toing-and-froing over campaign attacks Saturday.

Someone on Side A says something that Side B can seize upon and criticize to create a fight, which the media much prefers covering with military verbiage because it's bored hearing the standard stumRep. John Lewis Barack Obama supporterp speeches so often.

And that puts Side A momentarily on the defensive while it "admonishes" its overzealous supporter, even though, if anyone told the truth -- which they won't -- they're delighted to have the suggestion out there as long as it can't be traced back to HQ.

If these campaigns had referees, they'd be calling offsetting penalties every day now. And we have 24 more of these to watch.

Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) likened the politics of Arizona Sen. John McCain and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to segregationist former Alabama Gov. George Wallace.

McCain shot back his longstanding admiration of civil rights pioneer Lewis but said it was ridiculous to equate legitimate criticism of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and his policies with Wallace and constituted "a brazen and baseless attack on ...

... my character and the thousands of hardworking Americans who come to our events."

McCain called on Obama to repudiate the attack, which the Democratic presidential nominee's campaign didn't really do later in the day.

Even if spontaneous, it's all part of the good-cop-bad-cop PR trench warfare, Washington gridlock politics played out on a larger national stage.

Lewis took the occasion of McCain himself admonishing his supporters Friday night to cool it in their shouted distaste for the Democratic ticket.

Lewis said: "George Wallace never threw a bomb. He never fired a gun, but he created the climate and the conditions that encouraged vicious attacks against innocent Americans who only desired to exercise their constitutional right."

He said McCain and Palin are "playing with fire, and if they are not careful, that fire will consume us all."

McCain's side fired back (note the military term) that Lewis' assault (again) was a character attack "shocking and beyond the pale."

Later Saturday, Obama's camp shot up a flare to disassociate itself from the worst of Lewis' statement, while not really rebuking the political ally who had turned his back on the Clintons so helpfully at just the right time during the primary season. But it added a qualifier to allow the odor of Lewis' remarks to linger.

"Sen. Obama does not believe that John McCain or his policy criticism is in any way comparable to George Wallace or his segregationist policies," said the campaign statement. But wait! There's more:

"John Lewis was right to condemn some of the hateful rhetoric that John McCain himself personally rebuked just last night."

Bottom line: Just like World War I, artillery back and forth. The trenches didn't move any. But unlike that military stalemate, this election race has a predetermined end. Both sides fed their troops some angry propaganda Saturday to keep them outraged and fired up out there on the front lines.

Most of us watched from the sidelines, shaking our heads and wondering over the persistent absence of serious discussion beyond bumper-sticker sound bites.

And McCain has one less day to change the game's momentum.

-- Andrew Malcolm

Don't miss a single shot in the remaining election battles and aftermath. Go to Twitter here and register for free instant alerts sent straight to your cell of every new Ticket item the moment it's published.

Photo credit: Office of Rep. John Lewis
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3:13 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...


Don't post whole stories from other sites. Post links if you like.

It's not one guy saying something stupid--it's a widespread phenomenon. And it's a direct result of the rhetoric of McCain and Palin. You can't stand up there day after day and associate your opponent with terrorism and then act surprised when people believe that association.

4:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

(Rep.) John Lewis tells all the Black people in America that John McCain is a racist like George Wallace. That's such a lie and Obama doesn't say boo. You're the one with a partisan lens. John McCain doesn't have a racist bone in his body and you pretend that Obama is the victim but its McCain. And Obama isn't a terrorist but he's friends with one and that's a fact. That's not McCain's fault and he's not a racist but Obama won't speak up because he wants Black people to hate McCain and you know thats true. All you do is talk McCain down but Obama is bad or worse. You're not fair. Calling people racist when their not is what destroys our country. It's the worst thing you can do to somebody in America and you don't care, you just think Obama is so great but he's a coward who just wants votes.

2:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And I don't care either because John McCain will lose but Obama is a coward and all you do is make excuses for him. A Black president would be good but not one who wins because he lets people call John McCain racist. So write all you want about how bad McCain is but you know the truth and so do I. You like Obama and everything you write is just an excuse.

2:31 AM  

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