Thursday, June 19, 2008

John McCain uses the same racist tactics used against him in the 2000 primary

I was going to my local Jewish paper to write a letter to the editor as part of this campaign by J Street, a pro-Israel, pro-Peace lobby. But when I got to the opinion page, I saw the ad by the McCain campaign shown below. On the surface it makes McCain's "point" about negotiating with world leaders openly hostile to the United States. He says Senator Obama's willingness to do so shows his lack of experience. But the truth is, there's much more going on in this ad. By juxtaposing the two faces, it makes Obama look scary, angry, and foreign. It reinforces rumors that he's a Muslim, and uses his race to paint him as alien.

( viewed 2008-06-19)

In the 2000 South Carolina primary, someone who may or may not have been Karl Rove created what is known as a push poll. Republican primary voters received calls asking if they would be more or less likely to vote for John McCain if they knew he had an illegitimate black daughter. This was a particularly insidious canard, as McCain and his absurdly wealthy wife—whose tax returns his campaign refuse to release—adopted a Bangladeshi daughter from Mother Theresa's orphanage. She was about eight at the time and campaigned with them (family values), thus visually confirming for people what they had been indirectly told. This dirty tactic cost McCain South Carolina and the primary campaign. Richard H. Davis, who worked for McCain, describes it here.

The ad I saw was not the same as the 2000 smear. It does raise a legitimate policy question (which I will address later on). One could also legitimately claim that by now anyone who uses the internet has seen (and likely clicked on) dozens of pop up ads that claim to be asking a question, but in fact just want to "give" you a "free" laptop, and this political incarnation is not the same as feeding information as a question's premise, assumed to be true. Finally, the McCain campaign is taking credit for it, unlike the anonymous push poll used against him.

However, when the race for the White House really gets going, the 527s will slither out from whatever rocks they've been hiding under, and they will, undoubtedly, use race as an issue to attack Obama in sneaky, disgusting, underhanded ways. I had hoped that John McCain, having experienced such attacks, would stand up to this. This ad, and the way his campaign and the right wing media machine has presented the issue makes me much less hopeful. The question of whether talking to Ahmadinejad is appeasement is one thing. But it is being used as part of a larger effort to portray Barack Obama as Other, as foreign: using his middle name, describing his school as a madrasah (which is just the Arabic word for school), and asking if he might secretly be a Muslim. All of this is having an effect.

As for talking [to Iran, Syria, et al.] equaling appeasement, it is an absurd argument. Israel, people will say using the Jewish State as a model, doesn't negotiate with terrorists. This is wrong, Israel just negotiated a cease-fire with Hamas. The operative word in the sentence is negotiate. The reason for the don't negotiate with terrorists idea is simple. If you take a building full of people hostage, and I give you what you want, what's to stop you (or anyone else) from taking another building full of people hostage tomorrow? However, when the terrorists your dealing with are the democratically elected government of your neighbors, this strategy falls apart. Had Israel refused to negotiate with Hamas while they were firing rockets into Israel (the position for some time), they would have simply kept firing rockets. Similarly, if we refuse to negotiate with Iran until the stop developing nuclear capacity, they'll keep doing it. And while the effect of Hamas firing rockets (besides Israel's blockade and periodic raids into Gaza) was the destruction of property, constant psychological devastation of it's population, and the occasional, tragic death or injury of a civilians, the effect in Iran will be worse; it will be a drastic shift in power that will lead to a geopolitical pool-pah large enough to make Henry Kissinger plotz. Negotiating is not appeasement. Appeasement (to paraphrase Ayn Rand) is appeasement. The fact that appeasement results from negotiation does not mean we should refrain from negotiating any more than the fact that STDs result from sex mean mean we should refrain from sex; we just have to do it carefully.

I had a conversation yesterday with someone who told me he wouldn't vote for Barack Obama because "he [Obama] scares me." This is someone I've known a long time, but have never talked politics with. He says he votes for the candidate, not by party, and that he'll vote for McCain. When I pressed him on what scares him about Obama, he raised the issue of Obama negotiating with "those guys." He couldn't understand how I, and for that matter, how my uncle (much more hawkish when it comes to Israel), could support Obama, who's willing to talk to a man who threatens to annihilate Israel. My uncle, I assume (I haven't much talked to him), wouldn't vote for a warmongering, flip-flopping, antichoice, homophobic, plutocratic, fearmongering, corporation-loving jackass. Actually, that's me; he just like's Obama's charisma, and knows the two parties are identical on Israel.

My friend said another person told him he was racist for this view, but I think that's oversimplifying it. Instead, the Republicans have tapped in to a pervasive climate of fear, that there are those out there—Islamic terrorists, Mexican immigrants, Chinese sellers of poisonous toys—who are different, who are other, and who threaten us like never before (at least, not since the Cold War ended). And Barack Obama may just be one of them. They aren't saying he is, they aren't saying he isn't, they're just asking if you want to take that chance. That's why I couldn't convince my friend to support Obama (yet). That question, never explicit, but kept forever in the back of peoples' minds, is this year's push poll.

No comments: