Tuesday, October 7, 2008

It Starts

For months now, it's been a common right-wing "question" - who is the real Barack Obama? What do we really know about him? Of course, anyone who's bothered to pay attention to Barack Obama knows quite a bit about his life, his background, his political history, and his policies. But of course that was never the point. The point was to get people to take a second look at Obama, to emphasize his apparent otherness - this shadowy figure whose identity remains an enigma. Can he really be trusted? 

It hardly needs to be pointed out that race was always the subtext of this question, but it wasn't just race. It was religion as well - how about that middle name of his? - and the political volatility of claims that Obama was a Muslim, that his Christianity wasn't genuine, and that his candidacy somehow represented a victory for radical Islamic terrorists. Even a member of the U.S. Congress pushed this idea. For a party that loves to fret about anti-Americanism, this is ironic, because it's so anti-American at its core - the idea that your name and who your father was should prevent you from leading. 

But this is the slime that is coming from the extreme right. For a long time, John McCain had, admirably, stayed away from that wing of his party. But, as with pretty much everything else that was once admirable about John McCain, that stance is history. McCain's new strategy: to take up the same line of attack favored by the worst in his party. Who is the real Barack Obama?

But maybe John McCain is unaware of what he's about to unleash. Or at least that's what it looks like when you see the crowd's reaction in this video. Here is something that truly unsettles me: a major party candidate speaking to an audience that seems angry - actually angry - at the mention of the opposition's name. Not any particular policy or statement. McCain is tapping into forces of suspicion, anger, envy, and perhaps racism, and he seems shocked to find that, after asking his crowd who the real Obama is, the first and loudest answer is "TERRORIST!" 

He shouldn't be so surprised.

Marc Ambinder of the Atlantic Monthly notes:
Judging by McCain's slightly startled reaction, he clearly didn't anticipate that reaction, and McCain's in no way responsible for the utterances of anybody in his audience.  But he must have some idea of how deeply this fear/outsider/other meme has spread.
One other thing to consider: the Washington Post reported that when Sarah Palin was in Florida yesterday, repeating her lie that Obama pals around with terrorists, a man in the crowd shouted, "Kill him!" 

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