canarypapers

McCain & Palin: A hopeless campaign of dog whistles and kazoos

with 2 comments

I grew up in the South. I know the code. I know it when I hear it, and I know how it works.  

To the uninitiated, “code” is sometimes likened to a dog whistle, heard only by a particular audience, whose ears will perk up at the mention of particular words. The code has become somewhat of a tradition in American politics, a device used to summon closet racists and certain other red-blooded Americans to the stump. If delivered properly, these same words can be used to romance the mainstream. Times used to be simpler. Restaurants, theaters, buses, water fountains and so on were duly marked: whites or coloreds. And the latter could be barred entirely from the political process by various forms of threat, including the prerequisite of taking a “literacy test” before voting. Nowadays, if a politician wishes to divide the packs into “us” vs. “them” it is more politically-correct to use a dog whistle.  

Although we’ve heard the code throughout the campaign (see examples at the bottom of this post), the dog whistling grew to a fevered intensity during the Republican convention.  After all, their opponent was not only black but — by virture of his middle name — he could also be pegged as Muslim, which, as any dog whistler could tell you, equals terrorist. So it was only natural that Sarah Palin, making her vice-presidential debut, would quote the words of a racist, fascist, pro-Nazi, anti-semitic, pseudo-populist journalist named Westbrook Pegler — a writer who openly wished for the assassinations of Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy. As dog whistles go, Sarah couldn’t have made a cleaner, more precise delivery of his quote, when she said in her acceptance speech script: 

A writer observed: “We grow good people in our small towns, with honesty, sincerity, and dignity.” I know just the kind of people that writer had in mind….

To the uninitiated, it sounded like Sarah Palin was merely conjuring the honest, by-gone simplicty of Normal Rockwell’s America. To the initiated, those words sounded like the same old, same old dog whistles we’ve been listening to since George Wallace’s heyday. In politics, that’s what you call a win-win situation. And so it was that, for a few brief days in early September, a majority of Americans appeared ready to follow the pied pipers down that well-worn path that was last traveled by George W. Bush. But then, something happened. Two things, actually: Sarah Palin spoke without a script, and Wall Street began to collapse.

Both events made glaring the shoddy construction of the McCain-Palin platform, as well as the ineptness of the two candidates carrying that platform. Their poll numbers dived accordingly. Lacking substantive issues on which to run, and having failed at counterfeiting Obama’s campaign of hope, service and change, the McCain camp opted for the path of last resort: lying about their own record, while yollering baseless, incendiary attacks on Obama. After all, the fearmongering worked for George Wallace with blacks, it worked for Richard Nixon with the anti-war protesters, and it worked for George Bush with Muslims. As September wore on, the dog whistling escalated to full-throated accuastions: Risky! Elitist! Not proud of America! Dangerous! Dishonorable! Catastrophic harm! Al Qaeda! Domestic terrorist! Terrorist!  Terrorist!

With these words, the McCain-Palin ticket gave their crowds implicit permission to engage in the same. Ordinary stump patriotism quickly disintegrated into a pack mentality, as their rally mobs began shouting, with a menacing glee, racial epithets and words such as: He’s a terrorist! Traitor! Treason! He’s a socialist! A communist! A commie faggot! Barack Hussein Obama! A one-man terrorist cell! A Muslim! An Arab! Osama bin Lyin! Bomb Obama! Off with his head! Kill him!

Back when I was in school, in the earliest day of segregation, my best friend was African American. As a result, I got at least one ass-whooping per week. Some days, upwards of 50 kids would mob around me, jeering and yollering epithets as 2, 3, 4 or 5 kids would pounce, kicking me and pummeling me in the head. This was on school grounds, usually while waiting for the bus in the afternoon. I remember one day glimpsing — as I looked out between the legs of the mob — a teacher standing nearby. She was my science teacher, my homeroom teacher. She glanced over when I yelled, “Make them stop!” then turned her head away, as if distracted by something in the other direction. I learned to take the daily ass-beatings sitting down, with my arms wrapped around my head. An easier recourse would have been to step back into my proper place, an option I rejected from the get-go, back when the threats first started, back when I was first indicted with that notorious alias: n-lover. Those words were whispered and spat at me from every niche, clique and cranny of my school, and they dogged me home, via the nightly phone calls. The violence soon followed.   

As an n-lover, there were different rules for me than other white kids. If I raised my hand in class, it was as if I were invisible. My participation was, at best, endured by my teachers as they sighed, rolled their eyes or issued snappy retorts — their tone impatient, conveying a thinly-veiled contempt (English teachers being the exception to this rule).  If I forgot my homework or was late for class, I’d be sent to the office with a note deeming me ‘disruptive’ or a ‘troublemaker.’ Granted, none of these actions could have been tried as crimes in a court of law, but when such treatment becomes a daylong, day-in and day-out way of life over a period of years, it can either wear a person down in very fundamental ways, or it can inspire a person to rebel. I’ve generally, but not always, tended toward the latter. To my parent’s credit, being an n-lover was the most natural thing in the world to me. It never occurred to me, until I got my first ass-whooping, that blacks and whites could not be friends. 

So it is with no small amount of gratitude that I, as a citizen of this country, embrace any and all national and political figures who are voicing outrage over the McCain-Palin campaign’s shameful and dangerous campaign rhetoric. I am equally grateful to those in the media who are echoing censure for both the lies and the incendiary hate-baiting. Although the truth is self-evident, some of our most prominent media figures appear to be engaging in denial.  Or, perhaps, they believe it to be impolite or showing an unfair bias to state these ugly truths outright.   

The Messenger 

Just this past weekend, one of Capitol Hill’s most respected voices, Rep. John Lewis from Georgia — a man who repeatedly and quite literally put his life on the line during the Civil Rights era — spoke out against the McCain-Palin camp’s dangerous rhetoric:

_____________________

“As one who was a victim of violence and hate during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, I am deeply disturbed by the negative tone of the McCain-Palin campaign. What I am seeing today reminds me too much of another destructive period in American history. Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin are sowing the seeds of hatred and division, and there is no need for this hostility in our political discourse.

“During another period, in the not too distant past, there was a governor of the state of Alabama named George Wallace who also became a presidential candidate. George Wallace never threw a bomb. He never fired a gun, but he created the climate and the conditions that encouraged vicious attacks against innocent Americans who only desired to exercise their constitutional rights. Because of this atmosphere of hate, four little girls were killed one Sunday morning when a church was bombed in Birmingham, Alabama.

“As public figures with the power to influence and persuade, Sen. McCain and Governor Palin are playing with fire, and if they are not careful, that fire will consume us all. They are playing a very dangerous game that disregards the value of the political process and cheapens our entire democracy. We can do better. The American people deserve better.”

______________________________________

Attacking the Messenger

McCain’s response to Rep. John Lewis’ reprimand speaks for itself:

Congressman John Lewis’ comments represent a character attack against Governor Sarah Palin and me that is shocking and beyond the pale. The notion that legitimate criticism of Senator Obama’s record and positions could be compared to Governor George Wallace, his segregationist policies and the violence he provoked is unacceptable and has no place in this campaign.

I am saddened that John Lewis, a man I’ve always admired, would make such a brazen and baseless attack on my character and the character of the thousands of hardworking Americans who come to our events to cheer for the kind of reform that will put America on the right track.

I call on Senator Obama to immediately and personally repudiate these outrageous and divisive comments that are so clearly designed to shut down debate 24 days before the election. Our country must return to the important debate about the path forward for America.

It goes without saying that McCain has backed himself into a corner. Unless he continues to draw the sort of supporters that would have seamlessly fit into a 1963 George Wallace rally, McCain will lose what what little is left of his ragtag base. It seems the old dog whistle’s grown a little rusty over the years. People don’t hear it quite the way they used to.  But still, McCain and Palin will keep bleating on the thing, which nowadays sounds more like a kazoo. And, with whatever breath they have left over, they will huff and puff fake outrage over each and ever censure, and they will continue the campaign of outrageously pathetic lies, such as the one we recently heard, when McCain tried to turn the tables and accuse Obama of calling him a terrorist. (see video here). 

Noble Words, Noble Deeds

There are some who accuse Obama of lofty rhetoric, who say that Obama can’t lay claim to  noble deeds to back-up his noble words. One of Sarah’s scripts derisively termed it “the idealism of high-flown speechmaking, in which crowds are stirringly summoned to support great things.” I would remind these people of what happened at an Obama rally at Independence Square in Philadelphia this past April. When Obama mentioned Hillary Clinton’s name, the crowd booed, and he told them to stop. It happened again, just this week, when his supporters booed McCain. Barack Obama intervened when his supporters merely booed his opponent. He called for civility. Yet, when faced with supporters who label his fellow senator a terrorist — repeatedly calling for his assassination —  John McCain says absolutely nothing.

To those who would accuse Obama of lofty rhetoric, I would ask that they turn away from the dog whistles for a moment and listen — really listen — to Obama’s speech from last March (see excerpt and video, below) delivered at Constitution Center in Philadelphia, in which he not only addressed race, but described that fundamental path by which America can work together to pursue a better future. This is the same fundamental path he’s been forging for his entire political career, including this campaign. Unlike his opponent, Obama speaks for all Americans, each and every one of us, including those who are still asking the question, “Who is Barack Obama?” Listen to his words and pay attention to his actions. You will find no contradictions.  

Tears flow down the face of Marty Nesbit as Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama, the senator from Illinois, speaks in Philadelphia about race.

Tears flow down the face of Marty Nesbit as Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama, the senator from Illinois, speaks in Philadelphia about race.

In the end, then, what is called for is nothing more, and nothing less, than what all the world’s great religions demand – that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Let us be our brother’s keeper, Scripture tells us. Let us be our sister’s keeper. Let us find that common stake we all have in one another, and let our politics reflect that spirit as well. For we have a choice in this country.

We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism…. We can play Reverend Wright’s sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words. We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she’s playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.

We can do that. But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we’ll be talking about some other distraction. And then another one. And then another one. And nothing will change.


That is one option.

Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, “Not this time.” This time we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children. This time we want to reject the cynicism that tells us that these kids can’t learn; that those kids who don’t look like us are somebody else’s problem. The children of America are not those kids, they are our kids, and we will not let them fall behind in a 21st century economy. Not this time.


This time we want to talk about how the lines in the Emergency Room are filled with
whites and blacks and Hispanics who do not have health care; who don’t have the power
on their own to overcome the special interests in Washington, but who can take them on
if we do it together.


This time we want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a decent life for
men and women of every race, and the homes for sale that once belonged to Americans
from every religion, every region, every walk of life. This time we want to talk about the
fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn’t look like you might take your job; it’s that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit.


This time we want to talk about the men and women of every color and creed who serve
together, and fight together, and bleed together under the same proud flag. We want to
talk about how to bring them home from a war that never should’ve been authorized and
never should’ve been waged, and we want to talk about how we’ll show our patriotism by
caring for them, and their families, and giving them the benefits they have earned.
I would not be running for President if I didn’t believe with all my heart that this is what
the vast majority of Americans want for this country. This union may never be perfect,
but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected. And today,
whenever I find myself feeling doubtful or cynical about this possibility, what gives me
the most hope is the next generation – the young people whose attitudes and beliefs and
openness to change have already made history in this election.

ABOVE: See the full content of Barack Obama’s March 2008 speech in Philadelphia, PA at Constitution Center.  

 

________________________________

by Mantis Katz for the canarypapers

_________________________________

AN UGLY FOOTNOTE

Below is a sampling of the dog whistles, verbal molotovs and other incendiary devices that have been lobbed in the course of this presidential campaign. There are plenty more. I’ll enter them later, if (big if) I have the stomach for it:  

Then the radical Islamists, the al Qaeda, the radical Islamists and their supporters, will be dancing in the streets in greater numbers than they did on Sept. 11 because they will declare victory in this War on Terror. — Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) describing in March 2008 what would happen if Obama won the presidency

I’ve never believed in quotas, and I don’t. — John McCain, April 2008

I’m going to tell you something: That boy’s finger does not need to be on the button. — Kentucky Rep. Geoff Davis (R) said of Obama, April 2008

Just from what little I’ve seen of her and Mr. Obama, Sen. Obama, they’re a member of an elitist-class individual that thinks that they’re uppity. — Georgia Republican Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, in comparing Michelle Obama to Sarah Palin, Sept 4, 2008

A few years later, he ran for the U.S. Senate. He won and has spent most of his time as a “celebrity senator.” No leadership or major legislation to speak of. His rise is remarkable in its own right – it’s the kind of thing that could happen only in America. — Rudy Giuliani, in his Sept. 2008 RNC convention speech, makes a subtle nod to Affirmative Action as the conduit to Obama’s rise in politics. 

He worked as a community organizer. — Rudy Giuliani on Barack Obama, Sept. 2008 RNC

This world of threats and dangers is not just a community, and it doesn’t just need an organizer. — Sarah Palin, Sept. 2008

What does he actually seek to accomplish, after he’s done turning back the waters and healing the planet? The answer is to reduce the strength of America in a dangerous world. Terrorist states are seeking nuclear weapons without delay. He wants to meet them without preconditions. Al Qaeda terrorists still plot to inflict catastrophic harm on America. He’s worried that someone won’t read them their rights? — Sarah Palin on Obama, Sept. 2008

A writer observed: “We grow good people in our small towns, with honesty, sincerity, and dignity.” I know just the kind of people that writer had in mind…. They are the ones who do some of the hardest work in America … They love their country, in good times and bad, and they’re always proud of America.  — Sarah Palin, Sept. 2008

I think it should be a states issue not a federal government, mandated, mandating yes or no on such an important issue. I’m in that sense a federalist, where I believe that states should have more say in the laws of their lands and individual areas. — Sarah Palin, October 2008 [EDITOR’S NOTE: The mention of ‘state’s rights’ has long been code for being anti-Civil Rights. This was a prominent component of George Wallace’s rhetoric, as he tried to assert the state’s right to preserve prejudice as in institution. Here’s but one example, from ne of his more famous speeches, delivered in 1963 from the schoolhouse steps, as he physically blocked the door to bar black students from entering: “This nation was never meant to be a unit of one… This is the exact reason our freedom loving forefathers established the states, so as to divide the rights and powers among the states, insuring that no central power could gain master government control.” ]

This is not a man who sees America as you see it and how I see America. We see America as the greatest force for good in this world. — Sarah Palin on Obama,  October 2008 

Our opponent is someone who sees America it seems as being so imperfect that he’s palling around with terrorists who would target their own country.  — Sarah Palin, October 2008

My opponent’s touchiness every time he is questioned about his record should make us only more concerned. For a guy who’s already authored two memoirs, he’s not exactly an open book. It’s as if somehow the usual rules don’t apply, and where other candidates have to explain themselves and their records, Senator Obama seems to think he is above all that…. In short: Who is the real Barack Obama? — John McCain, Oct. 2008 [In short, McCain would like us ask ourselves, “Is Barack Hussein Obama a *real* American? Just who is this dark stranger? And what is this scary, black, Muslim-y terrorist-like guy going to do with our country if we elect him?”] 

“Barack Obama’s friend tried to kill my family.” — from a McCain campaign press release, October 2008

Sit down, boy. — Shouted at an African American media soundman by a Sarah Palin supporter during a rally  

_________________________

 

The McCain campaign has crossed the line between tough negative campaigning and inciting vigilantism, and each day the mob howls louder. The onus is on the man who says he puts his country first to call off the dogs, pit bulls and otherwise. — Frank Rich, October 2008

____________________________________________________

For more on dog whistle politics, see:

Stop Dog Whistle Racism: tracking race in this year’s elections

Advertisements

2 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Nice post…to track race in the race check out stopdogwhistleracism.com….

    ludovic blain

    October 15, 2008 at 7:05 pm

  2. Help stop the hate – here are three things you can do to make a difference right now:

    1. Sign the petition to end incitement of hatred and violence by McCain/Palin.

    2. Write your Congressperson about it.

    3. Write a letter to the editor of your local paper.

    And spread the word!

    ac

    October 15, 2008 at 8:02 pm


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: