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October 2008

Ignorance, Incendiaries, Ironies and Inspiration

I've been growing increasingly appalled by some of the ignorant and incendiary statements made by Republican John McCain's presidential campaign and its supporters. Ironically, one of the McCain campaign's political advertisements that appears to have had the most incendiary effect on evangelical supporters, "The One", is one that I find, personally, to be positively inspiring. However, before I say more about that, I want to review other advertisements and rallying cries that appear to be designed to inspire fear and hatred, and perhaps even violence, and a few other dimensions of irony that are emerging as we move into the final stretch of this campaign.

A recent BoingBoing post, If It Walks Like A Duck and Talks Like a Duck Dept: The McCain-Palin Mob, includes a video posted by Blogger Interrupted from a McCain campaign rally in Strongsville, Ohio, a purportedly "picturesque, progressive suburb". While no one in the video called Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama a terrorist, several interviewees suggested that Obama might be a terrorist, noting "he's got the bloodlines" (presumably referring to Obama's Kenyan father), "the name" (Barack Hussein Obama) and/or "the connections" (Obama's prior association with William Ayers). The setting of the video ("Strongsville"), along with the statements made by people there, reminded me of the Orwellian maxim "Ignorance is Strength", one of the most compelling - and frighteningly prescient - instances of irony I've encountered.

At a McCain rally on October 6, people were willing to call Obama a terrorist, and to propose a radical solution. In response to McCain posting the rhetorical question "who is the real Barack Obama?", supporters yelled "kill him! terrorist!" (at the 0:13 mark) ... immediately - and ironically - followed by McCain complaining about getting "another angry barrage of insults" whenever he asks that question (other responses by supporters at other rallies include "traitor!", "bomb Obama!" and "off with his head!"). I suspect McCain meant to imply that the angry barrage of insults came from Obama supporters (or perhaps the oft-maligned liberal "gotcha" media), but as far as I can tell, angry barrages of insults appear to be more of a hallmark of statements made by McCain, his vice-presidential running mate Sarah Palin, Fox News and other McCain and Palin supporters, than from the Obama campaign. And McCain's implcit or explicit endorsement of these insults leaves me questioning "who is John McCain?", a man I once considered an honorable senator and soldier.

In yet another dimension of irony (and ignorance), Keith Olbermann recently noted in his recent Special Comment on Sarah Palin's Hysteria that the Republican vice presidential candidate has a few questionable connections herself.

Palin delivered a warm, videotaped introduction to the 2008 Convention of the Alaskan Independence Party, whose motto is "Alaska First. Alaska Always", whose mission is to secede from the United States, and whose founder, Joe Vogler, once stated

The fires of hell are frozen glaciers compared to my hatred of the American government, and I won't be buried under their damn flag.

and

I'm an Alaskan, not an American. I've got no use for America or her damned institutions.

In addition to "palling around" with secessionists, Palin was once blessed by Pastor Thomas Muthee, who prayed that she would be protected from witchcraft (and be able to raise campaign money), and who had earlier conducted spiritual warfare against a woman in Kenya, accusing her of being a witch, blaming her for the local crime, rallying a mob to threaten her, and chasing her out of town ... which might be considered acts of domestic terrorism (I'd be interested to know what Palin thinks of the Salem witch trials, an earlier example of evangelical excess in this country, but that would probably be interpreted as yet another "gotcha" question).

Speaking of religious fervor brings me round to the McCain campaign's political advertisement, "The One", which many consider to be a shameless effort to fan the flames of evangelical furor over [allegations about] Obama being the antichrist. Ironically, I found this advertisement to be positively inspiring.

I hope "the world will be blessed", and "the nation healed, the world repaired", by an Obama presidency. His message that "we are the ones we've been waiting for" should, I would think, strike a chord with libertarians and others who believe in self-reliance. The ad quotes Obama as saying "I have become a symbol of America returning to our best traditions". This is a welcome contrast to the McCain campaign's increasing regression toward our worst political traditions. The ad quotes Obama as saying "This was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow, and our planet began to heal". The video cuts to a scene from The Ten Commandments, where Charlton Heston (playing Moses) parts the Red Sea, which may raise the specter of the anti-christ for evangelical Christians. As someone who is neither evangelical, nor [fundamentally] Christian, but deeply concerned with the health of our planet, I am inspired by the hope that our next president will help slow the rise of the oceans and begin to heal our planet.

The increasingly incendiary invective incited by the McCain / Palin campaign instill me with fear that Obama may meet a fate similar to other inspiring political figures from our naton's past. On this week's pledge week installment of This American Life, host Ira Glass played a segment from a Fresh Air earlier this year on Pete Hamill Remembers Robert Kennedy. I was deeply moved by Robert F. Kennedy's speech in Indianapolis the night that Martin Luther King was shot in Memphis, in which he raised the questions of "what kind of nation we are, and what kind of direction we want to move in". Many of those hearing the speech at the time were also moved: although there were riots in 180 American cities that night, there was relative quiet in Indianapolis.

The themes of love, justice, understanding and fellowship emphasized by RFK - and MLK - reminded me of how deeply moved I was by Obama's speech on "A More Perfect Union", which I still consider the most inspiring speech I've heard - live - in my adult political life. And the memories of the MLK and RFK assassinations also deeply move me, though in a very different way.

McCain recently described Obama as a "decent man" who we should not fear. Unfortunately, in that same speech, he also alluded to Obama's earlier relationship with Ayers, implicitly raising the very "terrorist" fears that seem to be inciting his supporters to threaten violence against Obama, thus compromising any potentially ameliorative effect of his "decent" words. As far as I can tell, the McCain / Palin campaign has adopted a desperate "win at any cost" strategy. Recent polls suggest the campaign may lose the election ... if they don't curtail their character assassination tactics, implicitly and explicitly encouraging and endorsing violence, we may ultimately experience a far greater loss.