Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Racism, Xenophobia, and Fear-mongering in the McCain-Palin campaign

The Washington Post today published what is at least its second piece from right-wing conservative columnist Kathleen Parker highly critical of Sarah Palin. (I've pasted it below.) But even more noteworthy is her mention of the rising stink of racism and xenophobia - and an implied threat of violence - at some of the Republican campaign stops.

A couple of days ago, MSNBC showed some very disturbing video and audio footage from McCain's New Mexico campaign stop and one of Palin's stop in Florida. When McCain asked the crowd, after a long lead-in to the question, "Who really is Barack Obama?", a Cro-Magnonish masculine voice yelled, "He's a terrorist!" The same day, when Palin insinuated that there was a sinister terrorist link between Barack Obama and former Weatherman William Ayers, another thuggish masculine voice yelled from the throng, "Kill him!"

We ought not be surprised, I suppose. Consider the new report that FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting, the national media watchdog group) released today (and I quote from the press release):

profiling 12 of the leading Islamophobic pundits and media figures and examining the ways they've negatively influenced media coverage in the U.S. The report, "Smearcasting: How Islamophobes Spread Fear, Bigotry and Misinformation," describes a loose network of right-wing, anti-Muslim partisans who regularly use innuendo, questionable sources of information and even lies to smear, and effectively marginalize, Muslims in the media.

And now we have the Republican candidates and their media clones trying so very hard to get the American public to connect the dots: Obama the man of mystery; Obama the closet Muslim, Obama the friend of terrorists; Obama the black racist (don't forget that nasty Rev. Wright!); but still, Obama the Princeton/Harvard East Coast liberal intellectual elitist. So completely the "Other." Most assuredly not one of US (or, for that matter, of U.S.). An insidious threat to the Republic, to American values, to our way of life. And even worse, in the eyes of all too many on the Christian evangelical Right, the Anti-Christ! Evil incarnate! He must be stopped!

What's an American patriot to do?

Kathleen Parker began her column thus: When Sarah Palin said she was taking off the gloves, she wasn't just whistling "Onward, Christian Soldiers." Or was she?

Consider that in the context of another especially surprising, scary development reported a few days ago by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now :

In a barely noticed development last week, the Army stationed an active unit inside the United States. The Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade Team is back from Iraq, now training for domestic operations under the control of US Army North, the Army service component of Northern Command. The unit will serve as an on-call federal response for large-scale emergencies and disasters. It’s being called the Consequence Management Response Force, CCMRF, or “sea-smurf” for short.

It’s the first time an active unit has been given a dedicated assignment to USNORTHCOM, which was itself formed in October 2002 to “provide command and control of Department of Defense homeland defense efforts.” [my emphasis]

An initial news report in the Army Times newspaper last month noted, in addition to emergency response, the force “may be called upon to help with civil unrest and crowd control.” The Army Times has since appended a clarification, and a September 30th press release from the Northern Command states: “This response force will not be called upon to help with law enforcement, civil disturbance or crowd control."

A public affairs officer for NORTHCOM said the force would have weapons stored in containers on site, as well as access to tanks, but the decision to use weapons would be made at a far higher level, perhaps by Secretary of Defense, SECDEF.

Progressive magazine editor Matthew Rothschild, a commentator on Goodman's show, noted that:

This is the 3rd Infantry, 1st Brigade Combat unit that has spent three of the last five years in Iraq in counterinsurgency. It’s a war-fighting unit, was one of the first units to Baghdad. It was involved in the battle of Fallujah. And, you know, that’s what they’ve been trained to do. And now they’re bringing that training here?

On top of that, one of the commanders of this unit was boasting in the Army Times about this new package of non-lethal weapons that has been designed, and this unit itself is going be able to use, according to that original article. And in fact, the commander was saying he had even tasered himself and was boasting about tasering himself. So, why is a Pentagon unit that’s going to be possibly patrolling the streets of the United States involved in using tasers?

The Army representative that Goodman brought onto the show countered, predictably, that these well-trained soldiers and their commanders can be trusted to do the right thing. But Goodman and Rothschild between them did an excellent job of showing how the line between civilian and military has lately been badly blurred, in ways of which the mostly non-reading American public knows little and understands less. (For instance, they note how NORTHCOM was also sharing intelligence with local police during the Republican convention in St. Paul.)

So, put all the pieces together, mes amis.

  • a bitter election season - perhaps the most bitterly contentious of my lifetime (and that includes the Vietnam era)
  • chauvinist, racism-and-religion-tinged patriotism and fear-mongering being spurred to the point of near-violence.
  • a financial crisis of monumental proportions and no end in sight, hundreds of thousands of jobs and homes lost, and public anger, frustration, and fear mounting by the day
  • gasoline costs astronomically high - and the costs of fuel for heating also high as we approach what some are predicting to be an unusually cold winter), at a time when incomes are being lost and people may not be able to afford filling their gas tanks (not to mention their stomachs) or pay their heating bills
  • fingers of blame being pointed at allegedly malingering blacks who ought not have gotten those mortgages in the first place, and at those shifty Jewish financiers on Wall Street whose "historically attested" penchant for greed once again threatens the lives of good Christian white people.
  • a combat-seasoned unit of the US army being made ready to deal with civil insurrection
Our president has repeatedly harped on the "goodness of the American people" - that we are a beacon of hope and opportunity to the world, a symbol of righteousness and harmony.

All of that may now be put to the ultimate test.

Call Off the Pit Bull

By Kathleen Parker
Wednesday, October 8, 2008; 12:00 AM

When Sarah Palin said she was taking off the gloves, she wasn't just whistling "Onward, Christian Soldiers."

Or was she?

In the wake of the vice presidential debate, Palin has trained her moose-hunting sights on bigger trophies -- Barack Obama and the media.

In Colorado a few days ago, she told fans that Obama pals around with terrorists. Later in Clearwater, Fla., resplendent in white against a backdrop of red, white and blue, she said, "This is not a man who sees America the way that you and I see America, as the greatest source for good in this world. I'm afraid this is someone who sees America as imperfect enough to work with a former domestic terrorist who had targeted his own country."


On Monday, Bill Kristol wrote in his column that Palin thinks Obama's association with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright needs to be discussed more.

Because hardly anyone ever mentioned it?

Palin also took the opportunity in Clearwater to deflect criticism of her interview with Katie Couric. First she joked that she was only working for Tina Fey's job security. Then she said the reason she did so poorly in the interview was that she was annoyed.

We are to infer that the reason Palin gave answers that ranged from ridiculous to nonsensical was that she was merely withholding her insights to demonstrate her pique? Right.

Nevertheless, "Yaaaaaaaaaaaay."

The real Sarah Palin is free at last. She's not just a hockey mom after all. She's Palin the Impaler. Pit bulls beware.

No one who watched the vice presidential debate should be surprised.

Palin's performance, notwithstanding her adorable dodges of questions she didn't like, was essentially a cri de coeur to America's non-elite.

Democrats and other critics distracted by her winks may have missed the message, but Palin's target audience heard it loud and clear. She is like the high-pitched whistle only dogs can hear. While Democrats heard non-answers, superfluous segues and cartoon words -- shout-out, I'll betcha, doggone, extra credit -- Republicans heard God, patriotism, courage, victory.

It's called code, and Republicans are fluent.

It isn't just the "maverick" word, which we now may consign to the Cliche Crematorium. Sprinkled throughout Palin's remarks were phrases that set the free associative mind in motion.

  • "Say it ain't so, Joe, there you go again" was Ronald Reagan all over again.
  • "I know education you are passionate about with your wife being a teacher for 30 years, and God bless her. Her reward is in heaven, right?" Every evangelical Christian heard her rallying cry -- Onward, Soldiers!
  • "Because here you voted for the war and now you oppose the war." Did anybody hear flip-flop?

    A television audience won't remember facts -- and most won't race to -- but they'll remember impressions. Palin successfully conveyed to those she was targeting that she is a Ronald Reagan-ish outsider who puts God and country first. And The Other is just like that elitist, flip-flopping John Kerry.

    That's a plateful of imagery and a buffet of touchstones familiar to those who distrust "elitists" and who recognize in Palin a kindred regularness.

    Time magazine examined voting habits and concluded that most people do not vote for issues, but rather for the candidates. Specifically, they vote for people who are most like themselves. Which is why McCain and Palin have amped up their rhetoric of difference.

    Neither McCain nor Palin would dare mention Obama's middle name, Hussein, but they can play up Obama's past associations and let others connect the dots. Terrorist. Muslim. Dangerous. Other.

    It is legitimate to question character and dubious associations -- and William Ayers is certifiably dubious. The truth is, Obama should have avoided Ayers, and his denouncement of Wright was tardy. But this is a dangerous game.

    The McCain campaign knows that Obama isn't a Muslim or a terrorist, but they're willing to help a certain kind of voter think he is. Just the way certain South Carolinians in 2000 were allowed to think that McCain's adopted daughter from Bangladesh was his illegitimate black child.

    But words can have more serious consequences than lost votes and we've already had a glimpse of the Palin effect.

    The Post's Dana Milbank reported that media representatives in Clearwater were greeted with taunts, thunder sticks and profanity. One Palin supporter shouted an epithet at an African-American soundman and said, "Sit down, boy."

    McCain may want to call off his pit bull before this war escalates.

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