Wednesday, October 15, 2008

There's Danger Here

It's pretty common at this point in an election campaign for one candidate to be trailing the other, and it's also common for the trailing candidate (and this applies to elections at all levels) to try to change the campaign with a new accusation or two against the leader. If it were sports, you'd say that the trailing team has to "make something happen". It's risky, and the accusations are frequently baseless, but if you're losing anyway....? You understand the thinking.
This time around, the economic crisis (which I don't yet understand well enough to write about, and wish my smarty-pants son would deign to explain to me) has landed heavily on the McCain campaign. No, it's not fair, but it's McCain's party that's been in charge, so he's hauling an extra load of rocks uphill toward Election Day. You get the bad with the good - ask Al Gore.
So McCain's slipping in the polls and can see the whole thing going down. His answer to all this is to try to make the entire election about, not the issues, but the opponent. Both he and Gov. Palin (I think she's attractive, but that voice! Oy!) are now concentrating on things like Senator Obama's ties to U. of Illinois professor and onetime 60's radical William Ayers. McCain/Palin darkly hint that the two are close, suggesting some kind of radical takeover plot based first, of course, on Obama's ability to be elected president. Really, it's even thinner stuff than the Reverend Wright thing that flamed up during the primaries.
The danger, you ask? Here it is. A few people believe this stuff, and for all kinds of reasons. They're taking all this pretty literally. And it's a time of economic crisis that leaves people feeling powerless in the face of forces they didn't even know existed two months ago. AND our nation leads the world in per capita gun ownership, the big majority of them in safe, careful hands. AND we nevertheless have a tradition of violence in presidential politics that runs long and deep, and ends just a blink or two ago from a historic standpoint. AND the targets of bulletts fired in anger or fear too often are black men.
Some people showing up at GOP rallies are now given to shouting things like "Traitor!" or "Kill him" at the mention of Obama's name. Do Party operatives shudder at the thought of having caused this all to happen by spreading a string of untrue accusations that actually go back over a year? I can't speak for them, but given that people can almost never think of themselves as villains, probably not. But I wonder if the thin veneer of polite society can be stretched so tightly that it leaves openings for evil to return, assuming, that is, that it ever really went away.


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