Monday, October 06, 2008

It's Fear, Stupid, And It Might Not Work This Time

Today, Senator McCain was in New Mexico. In Albuquerque, while I sat in Deming waiting for parents to come talk to me about their children, Senator McCain kicked off the final, darkest chapter in the 2008 presidential campaign with a speech lighting into Barack Obama as an unknown, mysterious, suspicious figure. (*cough*black man*cough*) Elsewhere, Governor Sarah Palin was barely veiling the strategy when she said, "This is not a man who sees America as you and I do -- as the greatest force for good in the world. This is someone who sees America as imperfect enough to pal around with terrorists who targeted their own country."

Bill Ayers again? We already sent this cold soup back to the kitchen! Sadly, this is all they have left. John McCain, a man who was the victim of horrendous personal smears in 2000, has ignored his own pledge regarding smear tactics and embraced them in all their warm, slimy awfulness - because the issues will kill his campaign. Moreover, having made this choice and buried his personal honor, the art of the smear is going to fail him. John McCain will not be elected president. Call it a hunch (and laugh at me if I'm wrong).

Fear of the black man is a potent weapon used by politicians perennially since the civil rights era - actually, it's been in use since reconstruction. They do not do this because they necessarily hate black people. I do not, for instance, believe that John McCain is overtly bigoted towards black people, nor would he condone such feelings in others. The sly infusion of doubt about "the real Barack Obama," about "Barack Hussein Obama," is not a condemnation of black citizens, but a cynical exploitation of white fear.

Like Jamie Foxx says in Dreamgirls: "It's business."

Yet as McCain makes his awful choice, his numbers are dropping.

My God, are we going to break the curse this year? Is the Rus Walton / Lee Atwater / Karl Rove exploitation of racial insecurity in white people going to fail? Do we have the perfect storm of mobilized black and Hispanic voters, along with white voters who are actually more concerned about issues than personalities (and our own insecurities about race)?

That would be a good moment for us fair-hued folk and our politics.


Kelly said...

I get so sick of the "race card" being brought up in EVERY venue in life!!

I'm a "good ole girl" from the rural south, but the color of Obama's skin does NOT bother me and plays NO part in why I don't plan to vote for him. (For that matter, I don't technically think of him as a black man considering he's the son of a white woman with two white parents. He's equally mixed.) It's his extremely liberal politics and voting record I don't like. Same for his running mate (who evidently thought FDR was in office in '29 and speaking to the American public on TV).

Your hunch is probably right.... but I think it's the economy that will do him in.

Algernon said...

We agree on most of it. We agree that the economy is likely to skewer McCain. I also think the negative campaigning he is turning to is going to do him in. It definitely won't make his case here in New Mexico, where Obama's lead is slowly growing.

We both have our doubts about Obama's record as well - although I would hardly describe his actual voting record as "liberal." Sure, okay, he's left of the current center, but that center has lurched so far to the right you might as well be saying he's "liberal" compared to, oh, Genghis Khan.

Algernon said...

Oh, but I forgot to mention - it's not the "race card," it is the "fear card." The point of this entry is that the insult here goes deeper than the "race card," to an exploitation of fear. The ruling class has us afraid of so many people. Is that what a true leader does?

We must give credit to Obama for something here. He runs negative ads, and some of them I wish he had nixed, but he hasn't tried to promote fear of any person or class of people. His negative ads criticize McCain for being wrong about things - they don't criminalize him for people he was in a room with years ago, they don't associate him with the extremist views of Pastor "Hitler Was Doing God's Work!" Hagee, they don't demonize him over other people he has come in contact with, and so on. They criticize his record and his statements on issues. They stick to the politics. I respect their campaign for at least giving us that much dignity.

It's sad when that seems like a big improvement. At Sarah Palin's rally yesterday, supporters began heckling black members of the press who were there (referring to a sound man as "boy"). People at McCain's appearances are shouting at even more frightening things.

Are McCain and Palin prepared to acknowledge their role if they incite something violent?

Either way, they aren't behaving like fit leaders of a great nation.

Ji Hyang said...

Tim Wise has some great essays on this, on his website:

Great clips on youtube-- he also began via debate team.

Kelly said...

Yes, I understood your point, but got sidetracked by the race issue.

The "fear factor" has been a part of this campaign from the beginning.... not necessarily from the McCain camp, but from everyday folks that don't like Obama. I can't tell you how many e-mails I've seen referring to him as a Muslim! In fact, I've seen much more evidence of playing that fear than color.

Think about it, though... trying to stir up fear is nothing new. Dukakis was going to turn loose all the "Willie Hortons", JFK was a Catholic, etc., etc.

Bottom line: I don't like negative campaigning. I'd much rather hear the candidates talk about what they hope to achieve as president and how to make those proposals realistically work.

I can wish, can't I?

Andrew said...

I agree with you Algernon and I think the fact that either campaign stooped to this level, in yet another election, is really a sad comment on American politics.

Keith Olberman had clips of Palin and McCain rallies where audience members were yelling "treason" and "kill him" in response to comments about Obama. This is NOT the American I know. Far from it. This is what exploiting fear will do to people. It will make them feel pinned into a corner and that they must fight and lash out. And they will, as we saw with the "boy" comment to a member of the press. Not even an Obama supporter mind you. The press!

In the end, this will add to McCain's losses. The American people, for the most part, are tired of being told who to fear and what to fear and just want to talk about policies and issues and all the things McCain CAN'T talk about.

Algernon said...

Right on, Kelly - the fear card is nothing new and it has worked in the past. Here's hoping this time it gets rejected.

Hello, Andrew, I agree and wonder what McCain will be thinking about the day after the election.

quid said...

Sadly, we are treated to mudslinging again. It is really no surprise, and from both sides of the aisle. But gimme a break. Our political campaigns cannot leave the playground.