You have to Frank Rich’s op-eed column in the NYT today, “The Terrorist Barack Hussein Obama.” It’s a great wrap on the bigotry and fearmongering promoted by the Republican ticket that has resulted in the social piranhas of The Base surfacing, teeth bared, dripping with bloody chum.

Some voters told reporters that they didn’t want Obama to run, let alone win, should his very presence unleash the demons who have stalked America from Lincoln to King. After consultation with Congress, Michael Chertoff, the homeland security secretary, gave Obama a Secret Service detail earlier than any presidential candidate in our history – in May 2007, some eight months before the first Democratic primaries.

“I’ve got the best protection in the world, so stop worrying,” Obama reassured his supporters. Eventually the country got conditioned to his appearing in large arenas without incident (though I confess that the first loud burst of fireworks at the end of his convention stadium speech gave me a start). In America, nothing does succeed like success. The fear receded.

Until now. At McCain-Palin rallies, the raucous and insistent cries of “Treason!” and “Terrorist!” and “Kill him!” and “Off with his head!” as well as the uninhibited slinging of racial epithets, are actually something new in a campaign that has seen almost every conceivable twist. They are alarms. Doing nothing is not an option.

Rich goes on to illuminate the changes at the top of the ticket — John McCain’s apparent willingness to take the low road, first by sending out Palin to stoke the crowds about the Ayers matter, then doing next to nothing when the bigot eruptions occur.

Obama can hardly be held accountable for Ayers’s behavior 40 years ago, but at least McCain and Palin can try to take some responsibility for the behavior of their own supporters in 2008. What’s troubling here is not only the candidates’ loose inflammatory talk but also their refusal to step in promptly and strongly when someone responds to it with bloodthirsty threats in a crowded arena. Joe Biden had it exactly right when he expressed concern last week that “a leading American politician who might be vice president of the United States would not just stop midsentence and turn and condemn that.” To stay silent is to pour gas on the fires.

It wasn’t always thus with McCain. In February he loudly disassociated himself from a speaker who brayed “Barack Hussein Obama” when introducing him at a rally in Ohio. Now McCain either backpedals with tardy, pro forma expressions of respect for his opponent or lets second-tier campaign underlings release boilerplate disavowals after ugly incidents like the chilling Jim Crow-era flashback last week when a Florida sheriff ranted about “Barack Hussein Obama” at a Palin rally while in full uniform.

What happened to that public bigot-averse John McCain? His polls sank, and as we all know, the Beltway consultant class set, well versed in catering to the public’s base instincts and fears to drive the vote, went to their less-subtle race-baiting approach.

Is there still enough racism in America to prevent a black man from being elected president no matter what? And, will Republicans play the race card? The jury is out on the first question until Nov. 4. But we now have the unambiguous answer to the second: Yes.

I’ve been saying that all year, haven’t I? And this isn’t a partisan matter. During the primaries we saw plenty of race-based dancing around the issue, and it was Mark Penn and Co. who led Hillary down that path. It was purposeful, because they are paid to win elections, not effect or promote social change, particularly about such a charged issue as race.  The continuing attempt to portray Obama as un-American, foreign, a terrorist is simply racism papered over with a new label. And the wingnut public knows it. That’s why you saw Obama Waffles, and multiple instances of referring to the candidate as “uppity” by public figures. That’s not even a racist dog whistle at this point.

The real question – does John McCain really believe in “Country First”? He has not, as his campaign chooses a very dark and frightening path in these last weeks, shown that he can close this out on a moral high note by challenging the vitriol — and potential violence —  fomented by those tactics. He apparently has no one on staff ready to challenge him, and the GOP hasn’t shown any desire to look in the mirror to see what it has wrought.

There are no black faces high in the McCain hierarchy to object to these tactics. There hasn’t been a single black Republican governor, senator or House member in six years. This is a campaign where Palin can repeatedly declare that Alaska is “a microcosm of America” without anyone even wondering how that might be so for a state whose tiny black and Hispanic populations are each roughly one-third the national average. There are indeed so few people of color at McCain events that a black senior writer from The Tallahassee Democrat was mistakenly ejected by the Secret Service from a campaign rally in Panama City in August, even though he was standing with other reporters and showed his credentials. His only apparent infraction was to look glaringly out of place.

A reminder of how bad this has gotten —

In Pennsylvania:

Man #1: “That guy gets elected, he hangs around with terrorists.”

Filmmaker: “Who are the terrorists?”

Man #1: “Obama.”

Man #2: “Obama’s a terrorist! You know that?!”

Man #3: “Obama’s a Muslim, he’s a terrorist himself!”

Filmmaker: “Do you really believe that, sir, that Senator Obama is a terrorist?”

Man #3: “I believe that he supports terrorism.”

Man #4 (walks by, randomly screaming): “Commie faggots!

Woman #1: “Socialism! Communism!” (random people yell “Go to Russia!” “socialist swine” and “European socialist!”)

Filmmaker: “You think they should die?”

Man #5: “Everyone dies, don’t they?”

and look at this incredible exchange:

Protestor: “Palin voted to have women pay for their own rape kits. My friends shouldn’t have to pay for their own rape kits. How would you feel about that?”

McCain supporter: “She should die!

McCain supporter #2: “She should pay double!

And this, in Ohio:

A sample of the comments:

I think he (Obama) is a one-man terror cell.”

He’s got the bloodlines…look at the name.”

There have been more personal interviews with Sarah Palin than Barack Obama.”


* The GOP ticket draws, and apparently embraces, the bigot eruption crowd (“Sit down, boy“)

* The hateful ignorance of the McCain/Palin base continues to spiral out of control (“I have read about him. He’s an Arab.”)

* Deranged McCain/Palin mob in Strongsville, OH; campaign caters to this base with new ‘Ayers’ ad  

* McCain/Palin Mob, Part 2: more aggressive ignorance

* John McCain’s rage – a national security concern

* Obama: Why won’t McCain bring up Ayers to my face?

Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding