Still, excesses of this type persist. It's been said they persist in both camps, but there's little evidence that Democrats have tolerated negative campaigning at this extreme level and certainly haven't openly stoked overheated crowds into what are reported as frenzies of vicious chanting. Yesterday's Washington Post has a pretty well balanced piece on the subject. It's called A Rage No One Should Be Stoking and it says in part that Palin has been telling crowds Obama is "palling around with terrorists" and has been using language that implies he's friends with people out to destroy America. The author tells how at a campaign appearance in Clearwater Florida one of Palin's supporters shouted a racial epithet at a network soundman and told him, "Sit down, boy." And he quotes from interviews at a rally where people told a news reporter* such things as "keep the nigger out of office" and "I'm afraid if he wins, the black [sic] will take over. He's not a Christian. This is a Christian nation! What is our country gonna end up like?"
I mentioned email smear campaigns in my first post on this topic. These too persist, leading Obama, who had been playing them down, to mount a web site devoted to fighting them.
It's sobering to carry out simple Google searches for blog posts, Youtube links, and affinity-group discussions containing the smears. Some of the hits go back a few months, but others, like this one and this one, are current. A columnist for a Birmingham, AL, paper complains about a cousin who, she says, "has been regaling me with smear mails about Senator Obama and his wife." Our household has received only one such smear mail attacking Obama and none attacking McCain or Palin.
Before I leave the topic, here's one more item. It's an oped piece from a right-of-center paper, the Chicago Tribune and it's entitled McCain and civility. The author, Clarence Page, says, in part:
It is a great paradox of American democracy that our president might well be chosen, after all these months, by simple state-by-state majorities of the least-informed voters. It is as if a large number of Americans suddenly woke up one morning to a shocking discovery: A guy who did not share their politics or physical appearance or European name might be elected president. Leading the charge as McCain's attack puppy, Palin has answered McCain's question, "Who is Barack Obama?" as though Obama were a subversive and threatening force. "This is not a man," Palin said of Obama at a Denver fundraiser, "who sees America as you see it and how I see America."He goes on to say he doesn't believe most Republicans think this way and adds he doesn't believe the loathsome "Abort Sarah Palin" bumper stickers are approved by most Democrats.
He says that the polls showing McCain to trail Obama bring out fear in people and causes them to become uncharacteristically extreme in their speech and actions. And he criticizes Palin for her extremism. Although she "usually has treated reporters as if they were carrying the Ebola virus," he says "Her supporters say they know her well enough after only a month in the national spotlight to be comfortable with her sitting only a heartbeat away from the presidency. She's 'one of us,' they say. That 'Hussein' guy? Who's he?" Here's the close:
McCain, to his everlasting credit, has not turned a blind eye to the politics of raw ignorance and xenophobia. Maybe he's remembering the way gutter tactics were used against him in 2000. That was when a whisper campaign claimed falsely that he had fathered a black baby. The lie led to his losing the South Carolina Republican primary to then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush.
Politics ain't for sissies, but campaigns are a good test of character. It's hard to believe candidates' promises to unify the country after they win if they turn a blind eye to divisions while they're campaigning.
Addendum: The Atlantic has a piece about a Palin photograph that's worth reading: The Politics of the Retouched Headshot. The author says "Humans seem hard-wired to assume that good-looking means good and, conversely, to equate physical flaws with character flaws." It makes me wonder how much Sarah Palin's appearance contributes to her popularity.
*Note: The Washington Post columnist explains that the reporter was from an Arab newspaper out to find the most negative quotes possible but says the quotes are nonetheless accurate (they were caught on video).