THE rage and incipient violence being promoted against Barack Obama by his presidential opponent prompts an urgent question: Do John McCain, Sarah Palin, and the people running their campaign really care so little for their country, its institutions, and the political process that they are willing to sacrifice honesty, fairness, and freedom itself on the altar of their all-consuming desire to win an election?
The answer, unfortunately, appears to be yes.
But what are we to expect? Republicans have gained a well-deserved reputation for running campaigns so skilled at character assassination that 20 years later the name Willie Horton still resonates and 'swift-boating' has become a synonym for unfounded political attack. The party of Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt has transformed itself into the party of Lee Atwater and Karl Rove, and the result is ugly.
Last week, speakers working the crowds at McCain-Palin campaign events in Bethleham, Pa., and Clearwater, Fla., referred to Barack Obama by his middle name as if it were an indictment, one asking his audience to think how they would feel on Nov. 5 if 'Barack Obama, Barack
Hussein Obama, is president of the United States.
Campaign spokesmen deplore these incidents after the fact, but only a fool believes the GOP operatives in charge don't know what they're doing. If Sarah Palin says Mr. Obama is 'palling around' with terrorists, is it any wonder that people in the crowd will shout out 'terrorist' and even 'kill him'? And when a county GOP campaign chairman in Virginia says in a newspaper column that in an Obama administration, rapper Ludacris will repaint the White House black and change the 'Star-Spangled Banner' to the 'Black National Anthem,' is anyone laughing?
The Republican candidates and their conservative columnist, radio talk-show hosts, and TV commentators have been encouraging the fears and insecurities of average citizens with half-truths, innuendo, tenuous associations, and inflammatory questions.
They seek to paint Mr. Obama as an Arab, a Muslim, a socialist, a Communist-by-association, a terrorist, and a radical who must, by extension, advocate the destruction of America. In doing so they are, in the words of Civil Rights-era leader Rep. John Lewis (D., Ga.) 'sowing the seeds of hatred and division.'
And so we end up with Mr. McCain's town hall meeting last week in Lakeland, Minn., where one man said he was 'scared' of an Obama presidency and a woman said he didn't trust Mr. Obama because 'he's an Arab.' Even Mr. McCain, who appeared at least a little embarrassed at what he had wrought, was booed when he attempted to back away from the results of his deal with the devil.
We wish we could give Mr. McCain credit for reassuring his audience that they need not be afraid of an Obama presidency, that Mr. Obama is a decent person, a family man, and a citizen with whom he has political disagreements. But while Mr. McCain decided to change the tone of his own rhetoric to portray himself as the scrappy underdog, his attack ads are still out there, feeding irrational fears and stoking the flames of racism to the point that there is a real danger that some fringe elements will attempt to turn hateful speech into hate-filled action.
The demeanor of the McCain campaign, as well as that of its surrogates online, in print, and on radio and TV, has gone well beyond what decency requires.
Americans, through their votes, can and should demand an end to the politics of fear.