Monday, October 20 – press the pause button. There was not the usual massive sell-off in the last hour of trading on Wall Street, no seven or eight hundred point drop. We’ve come to expect that every third or fourth trading day, but there was something unusual – “A rising wave of optimism lifted Wall Street Monday, propelling the Dow Jones industrials up more than 400 points on more signs of a reviving credit market and support from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke for further steps to aid the economy.”
So the world would not end on this particular Monday – everything was up three percent or more, and there was talk of another stimulus package or maybe some effort to repair roads and bridges and that sort of thing. There will no doubt be another disastrous sell-off, and everyone agrees, no matter what, a severe, prolonged recession is coming, but the good day was a welcome break.
In the political world too, a pause was coming – “Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is canceling nearly all his campaign events Thursday and Friday to fly to Hawaii to visit his suddenly gravely ill 85-year-old grandmother, his communications director said.”
Apart from the right-side talk radio jocks who will no doubt say this is a cynical stunt by Obama to win votes – the respectful and proper young black man rushes to the side of the dying old white woman, even if we all know he is a terrorist and closet communist and probably gay – or that it shows he’s afraid of John McCain or some such thing – this will be a pause. Those in the news business who don’t make their living stirring up the proudly uninformed for fun and profit will wish Obama well. These things happen. We’ve all been there.
There will just be less to talk about – two fewer days of all the in-and-out detail of the race.
And on the other side, it seems there will be a bit less to talk about, as CNN’s John King was saying this:
Most people top in the McCain campaign now believe New Mexico and Iowa are gone, that Barack Obama will win New Mexico and Iowa. They are now off the dream list of the McCain campaign. More interestingly, most top people inside the McCain campaign think Colorado is gone.
Of course King uses the word “most” – there will be denials. But this could be a welcome narrowing of all the things political junkies need to consider, as in McCain Camp Looking For Way To Win Without Colorado – “The McCain campaign is looking at an Electoral College strategy heading into the final two weeks that has virtually no room for error and depends heavily on a dramatic comeback in Pennsylvania, which hasn’t backed a Republican for president in 20 years.”
Okay, it’ll be all Pennsylvania – fine. The winking, blinking colored maps the cable news folks use to tell us what’s going on are a bit much. This makes it simpler.
But it won’t be that simple. See Rick Davis: Campaign Rethinking Playing The Rev. Wright Card – “John McCain’s campaign manager says he is reconsidering using Barack Obama’s relationship with Reverend Jeremiah Wright as a campaign issue during the election’s closing weeks.”
That again? Didn’t Obama put that to rest back in March, in his now famous speech on race in America? And he even mentioned his grandmother. Does Rick Davis want Obama to give another devastatingly effective speech? What about McCain himself saying Jeremiah Wright was off-limits? Who is in charge of the McCain campaign?
It seems there will not be a pause in all this.
But Jeremiah Wright has not come up again, yet, and we all have time to pause and assess where things stand.
That’s easy enough. Just as Steve Benen has argued that that the McCain-Palin campaign is the most dishonest of the last few decades, Josh Marshall argues that this particular Republican campaign is the sleaziest in the last thirty-five years:
Either because of age or recent immersion in politics, a lot of readers have asked, is it really usually this bad? Do they all get this sleazy? As sleazy as McCain?
The simple answer, I think, is, No. They don’t. I don’t think there’s any question that McCain’s is the dirtiest and most dishonest campaign, certainly in the last 35 years and possibly going much further back into the early 20th century.
You may say, wait, Willie Horton? The Swift-boat smears? What about those?
But here’s the key point, one that is getting too little attention. President Bush’s father didn’t run the Willie Horton ad. And this President Bush, however much they may have been funded by his supporters and run with Karl Rove’s tacit approval, didn’t run the Swift Boat ads. These were run by independent groups. Just how ‘independent’ we think they really are is a decent question. But even the sleaziest campaigns usually draw the line at the kind of sleaze they are willing to run themselves under their own name.
In this case, though, the kind of toxic sludge usually run by one-off independent groups in very limited ad buys makes up virtually all of McCain’s presence on TV.
Even setting aside this distinction, McCain’s campaign has charted new territory in deliberate lying and appeals to racism and xenophobia.
Josh’s point about independent groups getting their hands dirty, so the candidates don’t have to, is important, but I’d add that one of the factors that amplifies the sleazy nature of the McCain campaign is its willingness to jump from one detestable attack to another.
With some of the more recent cycles, the Republican Machine would settle on a personal attack early on, and ride the wave. Bill Clinton, they said, was a “liberal” of “weak character.” John Kerry, they said, was an “elitist” flip-flopper. The GOP attack dogs picked these labels in advance, and repeated them ad nauseum, literally every day for six months.
The attacks from McCain have been more haphazard. Obama’s a rookie. That didn’t work? OK, he’s a “celebrity.” That didn’t work? How about, he’s a partisan Democrat who won’t stand up to his party. Nothing? All right, he’s insufficiently supportive of the troops. Or he’s a pervert who wants to bring sex-ed to kindergarteners. Or a terrorist-sympathizer. Or he’s a socialist. All the while, the subtext of McCain/Palin rhetoric vacillated between Obama’s race, patriotism, and/or being “foreign,” but it’s never come together in a coherent way.
I labeled all of this “piñata politics” back in August, hoping to capture McCain’s habit of appearing blind-folded, swinging a bat wildly in every direction. The effect, though, has been the same – by struggling to come up with a consistent line of criticism, and ratcheting up the hate and fear whenever one line of attack failed to move the needle, McCain’s position as the sleaziest candidate in a generation is secure.
But then, it does keep things interesting. You never know what’s next.
And maybe McCain just isn’t paying attention; he’s just letting the experts run things. That would mean none of the lies and sleaze are really his fault.
See Steve M. at No More Mister Nice Blog, who says, this is just not so:
I don’t buy the notion that John McCain is an innocent victim of his campaign – I think he’s perfectly comfortable with its gutter nature. It makes him feel young and vigorous; it makes him feel like a brawler who doesn’t quit. I don’t think he worries at all about the lies his campaign is telling or the toxins it’s introducing into America’s body politic – all that is trumped by his desire to either win or go down swinging.
Maybe so – but on a “pause day” you can step back and see what all this has generated.
Let’s take a tour – to North Carolina, and this:
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. – When Sen. Barack Obama entered a barbecue joint here to greet dozens of people eating lunch after church services on Sunday, Diane Fanning, 54, who works at a Sam’s Club, began yelling, “Socialist, socialist, socialist – get out of here!”
Plumbers and Joe Six-Packs may make out better under Obama’s plans, and McCain is peddling lies. But the way Republicans have historically won elections is by getting some members of the working class to think that other members of the working class are getting away with a free lunch. I don’t know if it’ll work, but the pull is undeniable and will last well past the election. Wait for the statistics to come out of Rush Limbaugh’s mouth about how big a tax cut Obama has given to black people.
But you have to remember Republican strategist Lee Atwater’s careful code:
You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968, you can’t say “nigger” – that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things, and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites.
This has worked before – race gets mixed up with other things. It works now. But people aren’t mixed up, really. They know what’s up. It’s all code.
But North Carolina isn’t all like that. There’s Ashville, up in the Great Smoky Mountains, now with its share of arty, counterculture people and rather civilized. Great place, even if that town’s only previous claim to fame was that was where Duke University had the asylum where F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wife, Zelda, was locked up after she went quite mad. Scott himself ended up drinking himself to death, living out his last days on this very street in Hollywood, North Laurel, just a few doors down the way.
But things aren’t that nice in Ashville. See the Ashville Citizen-Times:
CULLOWHEE – A dead bear was found dumped this morning on the Western Carolina University campus, draped with a pair of Obama campaign signs, university police said.
Maintenance workers reported about 7:45 a.m. finding a 75-pound bear cub dumped at the roundabout near the Catamount statute at the entrance to campus, said Tom Johnson, chief of university police.
“It looked like it had been shot in the head as best we can tell. A couple of Obama campaign signs had been stapled together and stuck over its head,” Johnson said.
To be fair, it is bear season there. But this is not good. McCain may go down swinging, feeling young again, but the cost is things like this.
Then there is this news video from eastern Ohio, the locals talking about Obama:
“I’m afraid if he wins, the blacks will take over. He’s not a Christian! This is a Christian nation! What is our country gonna end up like?”
“When you got a Negra running for president, you need a first stringer. He’s definitely a second stringer.”
“He seems like a sheep – or a wolf in sheep’s clothing to be honest with you. And I believe Palin – she’s filled with the Holy Spirit, and I believe she’s gonna bring honesty and integrity to the White House.”
“He’s related to a known terrorist, for one.”
“He is friends with a terrorist of this country!”
“He must support terrorists! You know, uh, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck. And that to me is Obama.”
“Just the whole, Muslim thing, and everything, and everybody’s still kinda – a lot of people have forgotten about 9/11, but… I dunno, it’s just kinda… a little unnerving.”
“Obama and his wife, I’m concerned that they could be anti-white. That he might hide that.”
“I don’t like the fact that he thinks us white people are trash… because we’re not!”
Yeah, yeah – the news organization is al-Jazeera’s English language service, but these are real people, speaking freely. CNN and the others would not dare run such footage. It would upset people, and advertisers would bail out. Americans are a good and decent people, of course.
But pause, step back – you see where this is heading.
Or just head back to North Carolina, to Fayetteville, to this video record, part of this item from the Washington Times – Reverend Moon’s ultra-conservative newspaper. This is early voting at a polling site in North Carolina where “a group of loud and angry protesters shouted and mocked the voters as they walked in.” The voters were mostly black, and the “angry protesters” were “nearly all were white.”
You get the idea – voter intimidation – scare them away.
Again, Steve Benen:
Stop and think about that for a second. In the United States, in the 21st century, we have Republican activists protesting a presidential election. McCain/Palin supporters have taken to heckling, mocking, and shouting at people who want to participate in the democratic process. Literally.
And he provides links to the items on Republican activists are slashing voters’ tires and kicking journalists to the ground and vandalizing ACORN offices and more. And he links to the Johnstown video – pure racist anger with no code.
As he says, the mind reels. But that’s only if you have a day to pause, step back, and think.