In my private conversations about Sarah Palin, I’ve described her as a church greeter who seems so happy to see you when you’re new to the church, but gives you the cold shoulder as soon as they decide you’re not going to join their congregation immediately.  If you’ve been at one church your whole life, this comparison may not mean much to you, but if you’ve ever gone somewhere once or twice you may have run across people like this.  I can pick them out of a crowd now, and I do my best to avoid their phony kindness.  I prefer people to dislike me up front.

Sarah Palin, the Vice Presidential candidate who has been unironically praised for both her faith and her meanness, has decided that Barack Obama’s supporters will not be joining the congregation.  So it’s time for this good, Christian lady to take the gloves off and show us what turning the other cheek is all about.

“Okay, so, Florida, you know that you’re going to have to hang on to your hats,” she said at a morning rally in Clearwater, “because from now until Election Day, it may get kind of rough.”

I’ve been waiting to see if race would emerge as more than a sub-textual theme in this election, and hoping that it would.  I know that there is still a strong undercurrent of racism in this country, because the kind of racial issues we’ve had do not go away without being confronted head on.  Also, I know a lot of racist people.  Hell, I’m related to some of them.

The point is, there are still people in this country who will not vote for someone purely because they are a different color than they are.  The question I’ve been asking myself is “How many?”  I don’t know the answer to that.  If Obama were revealed to have magic economic correction powers and proved to us he would win every war single handed while growing high-valued currency on trees, these people would still not vote for him.

These people mask a probably larger group of people, though, who are conflicted on issues of race.  Their parents had strong racial opinions, perhaps, or their own views on race have been challenged by real world experiences.  For them, it’s easiest to let race be a factor when it’s not challenged and they can attribute their behavior to something else.  In an election where race is merely subtext, these people might never question that vague discomfort with seeing a black man nearing the Oval Office.  But if confronted head on, many, I believe, would reexamine why they were voting and make a more honest decision, whatever that decision is.

This is why I am at once horrified and relieved that Sarah Palin is bringing out the crazy for all to see.

Worse, Palin’s routine attacks on the media have begun to spill into ugliness. In Clearwater, arriving reporters were greeted with shouts and taunts by the crowd of about 3,000. Palin then went on to blame Katie Couric‘s questions for her “less-than-successful interview with kinda mainstream media.” At that, 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.”

God’s Barracuda isn’t just turning up the heat on Obama’s character.  She’s giving people permission to let loose with their ugliest, nastiest feelings.  How else do you describe something like this happening at a rally, during her speech:

…Palin, speaking to a sea of “Palin Power” and “Sarahcuda” T-shirts, tried to link Obama to the 1960s Weather Underground. “One of his earliest supporters is a man named Bill Ayers,” she 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.

If this behavior doesn’t disturb you, I don’t know what to say.  Let’s give Palin the benefit of the doubt and say she didn’t hear someone propose killing a fellow American in front of her.  Let’s assume she didn’t tell the crowd, “No!” because she didn’t know assassination had just been put on the table.  But this story has been out in the wild for at least a day, and I have yet to see a McCain or Palin spokesperson respond to it in any way.

What does that say to me?  It says they want people in their audience to get the hate boiling a little bit.  I doubt they want actual assassination, but getting a crowd full of people who are afraid of colored folk to fear the prospect of a black man in power certainly gets a block of people out to vote.  Why else would John McCain only raise his eyebrows in silent surprise when an audience member called Obama a terrorist.

So yes, I’m horrified, but as I said, I’m also relieved.  Palin and McCain did not create this nastiness.  They might share it, certainly, but for the most part they’re just stirring it up.  That guy who shouted “Kill him!” did not suddenly get that idea in the presence of Sarah Palin.  He felt that way when he walked in the door, and has probably said worse at family barbecues.

What Palin has done by hopping into bed with these people is – I hope – show the country that there is no kinship between them and the hatefully racist.  You may have grumbled about affirmative action or welfare or what you feel is a racial propensity for drug use, but you’ve never thought “I’d sure rather see a black politician killed before he gets into office.”  Palin’s behavior is appalling – not because of the nasty coming out of her mouth, but because of her non-reaction to murder talk at her rallies – but it’s best if the country looks this right in the face before election day.

Since Obama became a serious contender, I’ve hoped that America would finally be forced to see that racism is not gone and that it is not something to be shrugged off.  If Obama loses, especially after the racial undertones have been elevated to overtones, we may finally be forced to admit that we didn’t vote someone into office purely because we were afraid of someone’s brown skin and odd sounding name.  Maybe then, the next time someone suggests we kill a Senator and presidential candidate, someone next to him will hold him down until the Secret Service can bring him in for questioning.

As for the Christian Pit Bull, Sarah Palin, I wish I could say I was surprised that the candidate running on faith and family values seems the most eager to get nasty in this election.  The What Would Jesus Do? philosophy never survives the crucible of politics, but, in my experience, people like Palin don’t need much prompting to act more like Tomás de Torquemada than Jesus of Nazareth.

Here’s hoping the upcoming nastiness shows people the difference between Sarah Palin and Jesus is much more than lipstick.

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