The calls for the McCain campaign to rein it in, to understand the violence they could be inciting, are growing from shouts to screams. Frank Rich has an Op-Ed in the New York Times this morning raising the din. He calls us to remember those ladies in the beauty shops in South Carolina who said before the primaries that they loved Sen. Obama, but couldn’t vote for him because they were afraid he’d be killed. Their non-vote was to protect him; they’d pray for him instead. He reminds us that Obama received secret service protection way earlier than any other candidate, in May 2007. And then he reminds us how we all graduallly learned to accept that we had changed; that he was safe.
But that was then. That was before the McCain campaign went racist.
From the start, there have always been two separate but equal questions about race in this election. Is there still enough racism in America to prevent a black man from being elected president no matter what? And, will Republicans play the race card? The jury is out on the first question until Nov. 4. But we now have the unambiguous answer to the second: Yes.
McCain, who is no racist, turned to this desperate strategy only as Obama started to pull ahead. The tone was set at the Republican convention, with Rudy Giuliani’s mocking dismissal of Obama as an “only in America” affirmative-action baby. We also learned then that the McCain campaign had recruited as a Palin handler none other than Tucker Eskew, the South Carolina consultant who had worked for George W. Bush in the notorious 2000 G.O.P. primary battle where the McCains and their adopted Bangladeshi daughter were slimed by vicious racist rumors.
And that was before the McCain campaign decided to try and convince the American people that Barack Obama, Democratic candidate for the Presidency of the United States, is a terrorist:
By the time McCain asks the crowd “Who is the real Barack Obama?” it’s no surprise that someone cries out “Terrorist!” The rhetorical conflation of Obama with terrorism is complete. It is stoked further by the repeated invocation of Obama’s middle name by surrogates introducing McCain and Palin at these rallies. This sleight of hand at once synchronizes with the poisonous Obama-is-a-Muslim e-mail blasts and shifts the brand of terrorism from Ayers’s Vietnam-era variety to the radical Islamic threats of today.
That’s a far cry from simply accusing Obama of being a guilty-by-association radical leftist. Obama is being branded as a potential killer and an accessory to past attempts at murder. “Barack Obama’s friend tried to kill my family” was how a McCain press release last week packaged the remembrance of a Weather Underground incident from 1970 — when Obama was 8.
The question now is what kind of country are we? Are we the kind that rewards this kind of rhetoric? Or are we the kind that shows we have, indeed, risen above? I hope we are the latter.