“Oh, you think that’s funny?!” the large bearded man said. His face was turning red. “Yeah, that’s real funny…” he said.
And then he kicked the back of my leg, buckling my right knee and sending me sprawling onto the ground.
– Joe Killian, “How I Became Joe Sixpack”
It’s beginning to feel like every report of a McCain/Palin rally comes with its own unique section of violent outrage. This started about a month ago, when an African American sound man was told to “Sit down, boy!” in the same rally a reporter heard a man shout “Kill him!” as Gov. Palin asked the crowd who Barack Obama really was. Since then, I’ve heard a number of tepid arguments defending the McCain campaign from being associated with these situations. He can’t control who goes to his rallies. Idiots come to rallies of all kinds. Obama is trying to make all McCain supporters out to be racist lunatics.
I have certainly seen these people at other types of rallies and gathering, and I doubt even the majority of McCain supporters would condone kicking a reporter in the back of the leg simply for looking up at pro-Obama protesters. One or two stories of this nature wouldn’t concern me. A couple of people in campaign shirts that use them as license to insult and attack would not be a surprise.
It’s the quantity of them that scares me.
N&R political reporter Mark Binker and I were on different sides of the crowd – but we both got the same reaction from Palin fans as we craned our necks to see what the disturbance was.
“That’s not the story, the story’s up there on the stage!” someone yelled at Binker.
“Ain’t nothing to look at and don’t you write about it!” I was told.
– Joe Killian, “How I Became Joe Sixpack”
It’s also that they appeared as soon as the McCain/Palin strategy became one of attack, and specifically took up the question “Who is the real Barack Obama?” When this stump speech first appeared, it was met with protests. Many on the left thought it was racist. Of course, since no one said “darkie” and no McCain staff members tap danced in black face, this was brushed off.
But are these complaints really invalid? Let’s work backwards.
Following the reveal of the new stump speech, stories of hateful language, violent acts and threatening comments began to bubble to the surface. Senator McCain being asked by a woman about Obama being an Arab. A lady at a rally suggesting Obama may be a terrorist because “He’s got the bloodlines.” A man with a monkey doll with a piece of paper wrapped onto its head, who he referred to as “L’il Hussein.” These people were not created by the McCain campaign, but something convinced them that friends would be present at one of his or Sarah Palin’s rallies. They even felt so at home that they had no problem saying these things into a camera, even after these videos started to show up on YouTube.
To me, this is evidence of some change in Senator McCain’s campaign strategy. But what about the “Who is Barack Obama?” line would call out to the racist and angry in our nation?
Let’s look at the argument itself. In it, former weatherman Bill Ayers is brought up, as is Obama’s community work he did while on a board Ayers was also a part of. In this speech, Sarah Palin would wonder if Barack Obama really sees America the way her followers do if he’s willing to pal around with terrorists.
That sounds hyperbolic, certainly, but racist? Not if our criteria for racist language is ends at “He’s got the bloodlines.” Throughout this election, viral e-mails have been going out about Obama’s middle name, using it to suggest he was educated at a fundamentalist Islamic Madrasah or that he was secretly a Muslim. The guy with the Obama monkey was certainly the target audience of those e-mails. Now, in the middle of stump speeches, you start saying that Obama is friends with terrorists.
What do most people think of, right now, when you use the word “terrorist” to describe them? Someone of any race, creed or culture who happens to use terror as a weapon? Or this?
What I mean is this: If you say to someone – who already thinks a man who is a U.S. citizen and is running for president and is the son of a Caucasian woman and a Kenyan man is secretly an Arab fundamentalist Muslim – that Obama “pals around with terrorists,” what do you think is popping into their head? Obama with a white 60’s radical on the board of a community organization? Or this?
To deny that these stump speeches lacked a racial component works only if you read racism only as white people hating black people. While I certainly think the people who have been kicking and shouting at reporters are racist in this way as well, they are not only afraid of dark brown people. They’re afraid of light brown people as well. Once you subscribe to the idea that someone of a different color than you is inherently more dangerous, you’re probably not going to restrict that to one color. An insinuation that Obama is dangerous because he associates with terrorists (read: Arab Muslims) is going to play with people who also think he’s dangerous because he’s a watermelon and fried chicken eating Negro.
To be fair, it might be more accurate to say that Palin and McCain have been playing to their bases’ xenophobia, even though I think that’s largely the same thing as racism. They are saying to be scared of Obama because he’s different than you. Because he travels on exotic and foreign vacations (to Hawaii) and because he wants to talk to (Arab and Latino) leaders before bombing them. When they ask if we know the real Obama, they want people to wonder if he’s even American at all.
And frankly, the only people batshit enough to think that a man running for the U.S. presidency is secretly not an American citizen who has connections to Islamist terrorism are the ones who were prejudiced against him for some other reason. Say, the color of his skin and his decidedly unWASPy name.
Do I believe that John McCain wanted a bunch of Obama monkey-waving cretins to come to his rallies and kick reporters? No, I do not. (In all honesty, the jury’s still out on Palin with me, but I’ll let that lie). But I do believe that he was hoping to raise doubts about Obama as a risky choice.
And I blame him for not realizing that using incendiary language in an election that was already bound to bring out the racist fringe of our nation would not be heard as a siren’s song to them. In Senator McCain’s desperation to win the U.S. Presidency, he has given a seal of approval – however inadvertently – to those whose primary motivation is hatred. The people coming to he and Palin’s rallies spewing hatred and anger have come because they believe they’ve been invited.
There’s no closing the box, at this point. But I’d like any John McCain supporters to consider this question. Isn’t shouting at a reporter to stop covering a story and then assaulting him when he does not listen a lesser form of terrorism? And before you say that Ayers set a bomb and that’s a lot worse, let’s not forget that the last time a culture of racial hatred got scared of the specter of racial equality, it led to a couple of things that anyone would label as terrorism. Maybe even Sarah Palin.