Monday, October 13, 2008

The Trouble with Casting the Spell of Fear & Hate

In one of the old Disney classics "Fantasia," there is an episode entitled "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" in which Mickey Mouse (the apprentice) is charged with carrying buckets of water and dumping them in a well within the Sorcerer's chambers while the Sorcerer is out doing whatever it is that Sorcerers do when they go out. So instead of doing it by hand, Mickey Mouse decides it would save time if he takes the Sorcerer's magic hat without permission and brings a broomstick to life in order to do his dirty work for him. Seemed like a good idea at the time. Only one problem: he doesn't know how to make it stop. He attempts to ameliorate the situation by chopping the broomstick with an axe, but it does no good because the remaining splinters from the walking broomstick, in turn, become walking broomsticks themselves and before he knows it, he has an entire walking broomstick army that completely disregards his pleas to stop. End result: they walk over the very person who brought them to life and they flood the entire place against his wishes.

Recently, it has been getting ugly out there on the campaign trail. With less than 4 weeks to go, McCain decided to "go negative" on Obama's character by asking the question "Who is Obama really?" This question was followed up by Palin on the stump where she has portrayed Obama to her audiences as somebody who "sees America differently" because he "pals around with terrorists." (a reference to 60's radical Bill Ayers who, like many people during that time period, protested the U.S. Government's involvement in the Vietnam War)

[and the broomstick has been brought to life]

Of course, this is an election so we are willing to accept a high level of spin from a candidate when they are talking about their opponent. But there's a fine line between political spin and slander. Linking somebody to terrorism definitely flirts with that line. Especially in our society today post-9/11. Now, to Palin's defense she didn't directly say "Obama IS a terrorist," she merely said that he "pals around with terrorists." It's up to you to make the inferential step, which a disturbing number of Americans seem more than willing to do.

What got me though wasn't really the slander involved with linking somebody to terrorism, but it was the supercharged environment of hostility that it created. Like yelling "fire" in a crowded theater - the speaker should have know better. McCain and Palin had folks so fired up in the crowds that they were actually yelling out "Terrorist!!!" and "kill him!!!" Kill him? Kill a United States Senator? Really? Are you sure about that one? Which brings up another legal issue: criminal liability. For the sake of argument, let's say somebody actually goes out and kills Obama and the facts show they did so at the suggestion of Gov. Palin or Senator McCain during one of these rallies. Now you're talking about solicitation of murder.

Of course that would be a stretch under the current facts since McCain or Palin never directly said "you should go and kill Obama" but the fact that we're even having this discussion at all should be a wake up call that the Palin/McCain ticket has gone down the wrong path with this whole "who is Obama" strategy. When you ask a bunch of low-information country hick red necks* "who is Obama really" how did you really expect them to react? The outcome was reasonably foreseeable like a motherf*cker. If you couldn't foresee that all this negative backlash was the likely outcome, then you are either (A) incompetent or (B) lying. In either case, it is wrong.

I will commend Senator McCain for taking the microphone back from one woman in Minnesota who, in the middle of a town hall meeting, said that she did not trust Obama because he is, and I quote, "an Arab." End quote. Upon hearing this, Mccain immediately took the microphone away from her and corrected her by saying "No, ma'am. He's a decent family man [and] citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that's what this campaign's all about. He's not [an Arab]."

[McCain tries to stop one walking broomstick]

But unfortunately for McCain, and unfortunately for America, once you put this type of hatred and fear into low-information voters, it is difficult (if not impossible) to turn it off. In other words, taking the mic back from this one McCain supporter at this point may be too little too late. Even during that same town hall meeting, when McCain stated that "I have to tell you Senator Obama is a decent person and a person you don’t have to be scared of as president of the United States," McCain himself was received with "Boooo's" from the audience for saying such a thing.

[ladies and gentlemen, the entire walking broomstick army now completely disregards his pleas to stop]

Here's a suggestion for Mr. McCain, between now and November 4th, just scrap the whole "who is Obama" strategy completely. You were doing much better without it. Instead of grasping for straws by playing on the insecurities of the terror-stricken mid-westerners* (who despite their overwhelming obsession with terrorism have never actually been attacked by foreign terrorism themselves by the way), go back to running a respectable campaign on the issues and take Obama to task on that. There are several policy differences that McCain could use to hammer Obama on if McCain were so inclined. The irony is that such a strategy would likely move McCain up in the polls, as opposed to the current strategy he has currently adopted. Leave the fear mongering to the experts like Karl Rove and Rush Limbaugh. McCain is better than this...

...or at least he used to be.

* - I grew up in Kansas and Missouri so I reserve the right to talk about red necks and mid-westerners.