On the surface, the Democratic Party Convention under way in Denver looks a lot like a Walt Disney movie. Take last night’s opening session. There was ailing but indomitable Ted Kennedy, roaring his message of defiance at a cynical world, sprinkling stardust on the cheering delegates and transforming the scene with that old Kennedy magic that we know so well.
There was Michelle Obama, who could become America’s first African-American first lady, the living embodiment of the social progress that Ted Kennedy has devoted his life to achieving.
Not an angry black woman (as her detractors would have you believe), not even an angry woman, but a loving wife, mother, sister and daughter, smiling her way into the hearts of a sometimes skeptical nation. And there were the Obamas’ delightful daughters, as fresh and natural as the dew, totally unselfconscious, totally at ease, totally American.
That was on the surface. But beneath the veneer the poison that still flows through America’s veins simmered loathsomely.
I am not talking about the scummy PUMAs (the name comes from the initials for “Party Unity My Ass) who have gone to the convention to make mischief. A mixture of misguided malcontents and Republican provocateurs posing as Clinton supporters, they are a repugnant but minor distraction.
What caught my attention was something more frightening – something I picked up in the Rocky Mountain News this morning. It was a plot against Barack Obama’s life.
A suspect arrested on weapons and drugs charges told authorities he and three accomplices planned “to shoot Obama from a high vantage point using a rifle sighted at 750 yards.”
According to the newspaper, the threat of an assassination plot began emerging Sunday morning when police arrested 28-year-old Tharin Gartrell (photo top right), who was driving a rented pickup truck erratically. Sources said cops found two high-powered, scoped rifles in the vehicle, along with camouflage clothing, walkie-talkies, a bulletproof vest, a spotting scope, licenses in the names of other people and the drug methamphetamine. Authorities went to a hotel to contact Shawn Robert Adolf, an associate of Gartrell’s who was wanted on numerous warrants, and Adolf, 33, jumped out of a sixth-floor window, breaking his ankle. When he was captured, police found he was wearing a ring with a swastika. A third man, 32-year-old Nathan Jonson (photo bottom right), and an unidentified woman were arrested at an area motel.
Authorities said they don’t believe the plot was serious. “It could turn out that these were nothing but a bunch of knuckleheads, meth heads,” a U.S. government official told The Associated Press. And a Denver law enforcement official said, “These are not the smartest guys in the world.”
But, serious or not, the fact that there are Americans out there who talk about assassinating Barack Obama is heartbreaking. And I hold John McCain partly responsible. With his relentless attack ads, appealing to primeval fears and prejudices, McCain stirs visceral emotions that feed racial hatred. No, you won’t see it if you aren’t looking for it. The ads seem simple minded but not sinister, and I certainly don’t think they are intended to incite violence.
What, after all, could be wrong with a commercial that merely links blond sex symbols to a black man? And what could be wrong with deriding him as a “celebrity”? Nothing – unless you already harbor fears of black virility and jealousy of the success achieved by black entertainers and athletes.
If you have a conscience, John McCain, and I believe you do, cease and desist from this line of attack. It may be a game to you but it could be death to Obama.