The McCain campaign will do anything to win this election. It doesn’t matter how sleazy, how shameful, or even how dangerous it may be. You may have thought that American politics had moved beyond McCarthyism. If so, you were wrong. John McCain is (falsely) branding Barack Obama “a Socialist,” and Sarah Palin is absurdly suggesting that an Obama presidency would usher in Communism. A Republican Congresswoman named Michele Bachmann recently called for an investigation to unconver “anti-American” members of Congress. And yesterday, a TV anchor in Orlando – the wife of a Republican strategist – suggested Obama is a Marxist.
If you thought America had moved beyond the Willie Horton-style politics that Republicans used against Michael Dukakis, you were wrong. McCain’s direct-mail and “robocall” campaigns accuse Obama not only of associating with “terrorists” but also of being “soft on crime” and of putting children at risk. The campaign also raises the specter of another attack on American soil if Obama is elected.
The McCain campaign’s tactics have been so treacherous it has aroused suspicions throughout the world. For example, Syrian officials are speculating that yesterday’s invasion in which U.S. helicopters killed and wounded civilians in their country was an attempt by George Bush to create an international incident that would boost McCain’s chances of being elected.
But the campaign’s most dangerous and shameful tactic is its incitement of racial hatred. Palin’s insinuations and “code words” – and the seething cauldron of right-wing bloggers – have stirred such vicious emotions that threats have been raised against Obama and police have uncovered two plots to assassinate him. You will remember that, back in August, police thwarted a plan to shoot Obama as he addressed the Democratic National Convention in Denver. Now, authorities have arrested Daniel Cowart, 20, of Bells, Tenn., (photo at right) and Paul Schlesselman 18, of Helena-West Helena, Ark., white supremacists who allegedly plotted to go on a nationwide killing spree, shooting and decapitating black people and ultimately targeting the Democratic presidential candidate.
In all, the two men, whom officials described as neo-Nazi skinheads, planned to kill 88 people – 14 by beheading, according to documents unsealed in U.S. District Court in Jackson, Tenn. The numbers 88 and 14 are symbolic in the white supremacist community. The spree, which initially targeted an unidentified predominantly African-American school, was to end with the two men driving toward Obama, “shooting at him from the windows,” the documents show.
This kind of lunacy should surprise no one. The tone of the McCain campaign is so divisive and incendiary that it would be surprising if it did not incite racial violence. One recent example of the precipitous path the campaign has chosen was provided by a man named Peter Feldman, McCain’s communications director for Pennsylvania. Feldman fanned the flames of racial bigotry by peddling a story about an attack on one of his female, white “volunteers” by a big African-American man who supposedly carved a “B” into her cheek because she had a McCain sticker on her car. Conservative propaganda outlets like Fox and the Drudge Report ran with the story, and a horde of maniacal bloggers and right-wing radio commentators jumped on the race-baiting bandwagon.
It turns out that the 20-year-old white woman made up the story, and that Feldman embellished it for racist effectiveness. The woman – Ashley Todd, a Young Republicans campaign worker – confessed to police that she scratched the backward B into her own face and that there was no big, black attacker. Also, Feldman has had to backtrack on his description of her as a volunteer. The young woman is a paid phone bank worker for the McCain campaign, and I wonder whether it was Feldman who prompted her to perpetrate the hoax. After all, it was Feldman who told reporters that the “B” obviously stood for “Barack,” and that her attacker had noticed a sticker on her car and yelled: “Oh you’re with McCain . . . you’re with the McCain campaign? I’m going to teach you a lesson!”
That Feldman continues to work for McCain speaks volumes. This campaign has no shame. And worse, it has no concern for the consequences of its hatemongering. We can only hope that there are enough decent Americans who reject this kind of behavior to keep McCain-Palin from being elected. And we can only pray that God in His mercy will protect Barack Obama and his family from harm.