Beating Ugliness

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, although I’ve had it in mind several times in the past week to write something, especially on politics.  With only a few days left until the election, it is difficult to tell whether or not things are tightening.  At first, this seemed to be the case, with some polls indicating a tighter race in states such as Pennsylvania, where Obama has polled well ahead for over a month.  It seems possible that the NBC/Mason-Dixon poll released Tuesday, indicating a 47%-43% lead for Obama, might have actually been an outlier, since Obama still appears to have a sizable lead in Pennsylvania.  Rasmussen also has just polled Obama with a four-point spread in Pennsylvania.  But other polls indicate that Obama has moderate leads in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, Colorado, and Nevada, with slim leads in North Carolina and Missouri, and he’s running close in long-standing GOP strongholds such as the Dakotas, Montana, Indiana, and even McCain’s own Arizona.  With such swing states polling well for Obama, he may well be on his way to winning but, with time left and polls differing, nothing is certain.

It’s also difficult to gauge except anecdotally, but I can’t help but think that there has been a significant backlash against the venomous vitriol that McCain, Palin, and some of their rabid, fulminating supporters have heaped upon Obama.  It’s really been disgraceful, a low point in modern American politics that is no stranger to the politics of hate.  Watching McCain, Palin, Limbaugh (Obama is a “socialist thug” among so much more disgrace), House Minority Speaker John Boehner (referring to Obama as a “chicken s&*t”), Iowa Rep. Steve King, Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, and other alleged luminaries of the right publicly embarrass themselves and this nation with grotesque statements and accusations in recent weeks has produced the kind of visceral reaction in me and I suspect many others that few moments in recent times have matched.  In recent memory, the abomination that was the Hurricane Katrina aftermath was one, when I was in a seething rage over the Bush administration and Republican-controlled Congress’s apoplectic and rather tepid response to the human tragedy unfolding before out very eyes.  This presidential election, with all its scurrilous accusations and outright pandering to racism, is certainly another.

I’ve posted before about how the McCain-Palin ticket has spent most of its time attempting to construe Obama as ‘Other,’ a boogeyman to be feared, one “who doesn’t see this country like us,” the ridiculous accusation of being a “socialist,” and the hate-filled and at times racist reactions of some at their rallies and in society.  These smears and slurs have been more than attempts to cast Obama as an untrustworthy ‘Other,’ but indeed have played upon–not unconsciously I’m convinced–ideas of race and nationality that have long held purchase in our society.  Rooted in ideas of power and superiority and used to presume, allege, and justify inferiority of ‘others,’ such slurs have become the basis of McCain’s campaign, nothing short.  These have gone well beyond the usual harshness and truth-stretching of political campaigns, and that has certainly existed on both sides, though not in equal amounts I would contend.  Indeed, it is difficult to watch McCain and Palin without hearing one or more of the baseless, hate-mongering claims meant to equate Obama with terrorists and their alleged sympathizers and enablers, his policies with social undesirables such as welfare recipients and socialists, and himself as “extreme” because he is allegedly “the most liberal person ever to run for the presidency.”  These tropes, quite literally, are the McCain-Palin campaign.  I cannot imagine that, if he had the funds, McCain would have avoided slurring Obama in a half-hour infomercial.  Yet that’s just what Obama did in his half-hour, not mentioning McCain once but speaking about ideas and policies–rehashing much, to be sure, but speaking about problems and solutions–not McCain.  The reverse would never have happened.

The ignorance of the GOP ticket knows no bounds.

Historically, not only is Obama not the most liberal candidate the country has ever had by any sober, sane estimation, depending on how voting records are (mis-)analyzed, Obama isn’t even the most liberal senator.  While taking into consideration variations in historical eras, ways of thinking, and the political possibilities embedded therein, to think that Obama is somehow more liberal than, say, Henry Wallace, Eugene Debs (though a socialist and not a liberal),  Ralph Nader, George McGovern, and countless others on small party tickets whom voters most barely recognize is such a colossally stupid statement that it scarcely merits the time devoted to refute such lunacy.  But the (in-)accuracy of such smears, obviously, is not the point.  The smear is the point. But it’s not the most egregious.  Those pandering to racism are.  They’re not the only reason, but perhaps the main reason, why I talk politics on what had solely been a baseball and sports blog, in addition to the fact that politics is infinitely more important.  In my mind, to sit idly by and not pass comment, not organize and work against such rank ideas and actions, is to enable them whether or not people want to enable them.  That’s the byproduct, nothing short. I will not allow it without at least speaking out.  That’s the least I can do.

In recent days, Palin has accused Obama of not sufficiently responding to criticisms of Isreal from Columbia University professor Rashid Khalidi and others.  This is the same Khalidi whose Center for Palestine Research and Studies received $448,873 from the International Republican Institute, a group McCain chaired, in 1998.  The point is not that McCain is somehow cavorting with suspicious people, which is what he’s accusing Obama of doing through now typical guilt-by-association smears.  Khalidi is not a suspicious character, but rather a critic of Israel’s heavy-handed, repressive policies toward the Palestinian people, and someone who favors a two-state solution to their ongoing disputes.  He’s hardly a terrorist, or even a threatening figure.  Yet that’s how McCain and Palin have characterized Khalidi and, by association, Obama–clearly playing upon long-standing notions that anyone who criticizes Israel in any way is somehow suspect.  It’s more than a sad, narrow-minded political litmus test for American foreign policy, especially considering that such a litmus test has utterly failed to help resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict.  It’s also racially tinged, with Khalidi, whom Jo-Ann Mort has characterized as someone “who has always reached out to all sides in the debate about the future of Israel and Palestine,” now serving as the suspicious ‘Other’ of Palestinian descent (though an American citizen by birth), alleged hater of Israel and, therefore, a political outcast.

The point is that guilt-by-association smears are rank and disgusting, and not just because they’ve snared the ignorant McCain in his own slimy web.  It’s because they are inherently anti-intellectual in their cowardly avoidance of substantive discourse.  It’s because they pander to the worst in human nature–hate, racism, fear, anger, superficiality–and not the best or even the positive.  It’s because they offer nothing of value.  McCain and Palin are therefore guilty by association with their own smears, their own lies, their own warping of history and facts, their own base anti-intellectualism, of offering nothing positive to America’s voters.  They have offered nothing these past few weeks, nothing positive, except the meme of don’t vote for the socialist, suspect, terrorist-sympathizing, welfare-abetting black guy.  That’s essentially been their argument.  Make no mistake, race has been the subtext.  It’s really not debatable.

McCain and Palin deserve to lose and lose badly.  They’ve run one of the worst, most debased hatchet-job campaigns in modern American politics, appealing to the worst at every turn and almost exclusively.  While I have significant concerns about Obama, he’d be a far better alternative than McCain.  He might be too close to Clinton’s presidency than I’d like, for I always considered Clinton a fine Republican president given his policies that often openly poached initiatives from the right, such as NAFTA and “welfare reform,” as well as floating trial balloons for the privatization of social security that much of the right wing would love to have.  How telling it would be that the likelihood of an Obama presidency that might parallel Clinton’s (although Obama would have a far more commanding Congressional advantage with stronger Democratic control than Clinton had, but the key is the president and the agenda he’ll set) would be a welcome sight.  It’s as much a statement on the last seven-plus years of the lowly, grotesque, malfeasant Bush administration as it would be on Obama’s should he win, at least to start.  That said, the McCain-Palin ticket has been nothing short of an insult to the American electorate, one that deserves to get smashed November 4.

I sense a close election in favor of Obama, with his winning just over 300 electoral votes.  I also sense, should Obama be elected the first president of color, that the return to McCarthyist hate pandering in American politics has just begun.  The ugly McCain-Palin campaign will not have been the last of its kind, alas.

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Published in: on November 1, 2008 at 10:33 am  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. bravo jason–i will direct all of my friends ( the non baseball guys ) to read this fine piece.

    i couldn’t agree more about the shameless hypocrisy of the republicans–this new generation perpetrating the “big lie” that began with the smear campaign led by poppy bush’s head henchman lee atwater makes the nixon years seem almost golden. sarah palin is not only the worst and most egregious political joke thrust into the political arena in my lifetime–potentially she could be the most dangerous. the way she gaily spouts vitriol and hatred truly frightens me. mc cain seems just to have succumbed to all the worst demons in himself and has descended into anger and bitterness.

    i know i should probably be more worried about the outcome of the election ( considering the the theft of the last two), but i have a more optimistic view of what is going to take place here–not just on november 4th but over the next few years. i feel barack obama will be the most transformative figure this country has seen since bobby kennedy- and will fulfill that legacy-not only here, but just as important, restoring some dignity to this declining empire around the world.

  2. A substantial ugliness lurks below the surface, as well.

    The viral email I got earlier this week was especially notable for the false witness it contained and for the way it introduced, as is too usual these days, the issue of race.

    So I wrote a reply posted here.


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