McCain Enflames 'Partisan Rancor'
October 24, 2008
Perhaps the biggest lie of John McCain’s campaign – from a list that is long and growing daily – was his claim during his acceptance speech in early September that he would be the leader who would end “partisan rancor.”
The statement already sounded odd coming after the McCain campaign had spent weeks mocking Barack Obama as a celebrity on par with Paris Hilton and after a Republican convention filled with ridicule of Obama as a “community organizer.”
But what wasn’t known then was that McCain’s end-partisan-rancor pledge would precede a fall campaign that may go down as one of the nastiest in American history.
Also, what’s been remarkable is that some of the ugliest smears are coming personally from McCain, Sarah Palin and other Republican officeholders, not from arms-length 527 groups or anonymous political operatives.
In the past, too, it was enough for Republicans to accuse Democrats of being “liberal” or “soft on terror.” Now, Palin depicts Obama as “palling around with terrorists,” while McCain has brushed past the “liberal” label to tar Obama with the charge of “socialism.”
Some McCain/Palin rallies have turned into Obama hate-fests, with McCain’s rhetorical question – “Who is the real Barack Obama?” – prompting shouts of “terrorist” and “traitor,” and Palin’s “palling around” remarks drawing cries of “Kill him!” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “McCain/Palin Put Country Last.”]
Palin then began dividing the country into “pro-America/real America” sections – patriotic small towns that work hard, defend the nation and support the McCain-Palin ticket – and urban areas that are, by implication, slothful, disloyal and pro-Obama.
"We believe that the best of America is in these small towns that we get to visit, and in these wonderful little pockets of what I call the real America, being here with all of you hard-working very patriotic, very pro-America areas of this great nation," Palin said in Greensboro, North Carolina, on Oct. 16.
"This is where we find the kindness and the goodness and the courage of everyday Americans. Those who are running our factories and teaching our kids and growing our food and are fighting our wars for us. Those who are protecting us in uniform. Those who are protecting the virtues of freedom."
A day later on MSNBC’s “Hardball” show, Rep. Michelle Bachman, R-Minnesota, defended those comments by citing Sen. Obama’s supposedly anti-American associations and urging the news media to investigate other anti-Americanism in Congress.
“I wish the American media would take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out, are they pro-America or anti-America? I think people would love to see an expose like that,” Bachman said.
In the hard-fought swing state of Virginia, representatives of the McCain campaign suggested that Democratic-leaning communities in northern Virginia were part of that disloyal, fake America.
Joe McCain, the candidate’s brother, called Arlington and Alexandria “communist country,” although John McCain’s campaign headquarters and one of his seven homes are in Arlington.
On Oct. 18, McCain adviser Nancy Pfotenhauer joined in disparaging northern Virginia, saying that “the rest of the state – real Virginia if you will – I think will be very responsive to Sen. McCain’s message.”
When MSNBC host Kevin Corke suggested that Pfotenhauer might want to modify her comment – “Nancy, I’m going to give you a chance to climb back off that ledge — Did you say ‘real Virginia’?” – Pfotenhauer instead expanded on her point.
“Real Virginia, I take to be, this part of the state that’s more Southern in nature,” she said.
It should be noted that during the civil rights era, the “communist” or “unreal-Virginia” communities of Arlington and Alexandria led the way in integrating public schools in the Commonwealth, which had a long and tragic history of slavery and segregation.
But putting down “liberals” in insulting terms – dating back at least to that civil rights era – has been a hallmark of the American Right.
For decades now, Democrats and Americans on the left side of the political spectrum have served as political punching bags, pummeled for their supposed lack of patriotism and blamed for virtually all the national ills, even though Republicans and conservatives have dominated the government.
That blame-liberals-first strategy is now evident in the new attack line against Obama, who is getting blamed for the stock market crash, a theme pushed by Rupert Murdoch’s right-wing media outlets and spreading across talk radio and the right-wing blogosphere.
The irony is that this new charge is peddled as former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan acknowledges that the chief culprit in the financial collapse was right-wing Republican ideology that despised regulations.
In testimony Thursday before the House Government Oversight Committee, Greenspan admitted that he was mistaken in pushing deregulation for several decades and putting trust in a belief that investment banks and the markets would regulate themselves.
"You found that your view of the world, your ideology was not right, it was not working?" asked Rep. Henry Waxman, D-California, committee chairman.
"Absolutely, precisely," Greenspan responded. "You know, that's precisely the reason I was shocked, because I have been going for 40 years or more with very considerable evidence that it was working exceptionally well."
Yet, even in the face of Greenspan’s limited confession, Republican operative Karl Rove and various right-wing media voices have begun pinning the cause of the plummeting stock market on Wall Street’s supposed reaction to Obama’s lead in the polls.
Whether these anti-Obama attack themes will resonate – pro-terrorist, pro-socialist, anti-American – remains in doubt. However, similar attempts to demonize Democratic candidates, from Michael Dukakis through John Kerry, have succeeded more often than not.
But another question is what would happen to the United States if John McCain’s politics of “partisan rancor” – combined with Republican strategies for suppressing the vote around the country – push McCain to a dubious victory on Election Day.
Those on the Left – especially young voters and African-Americans – are not likely to be as polite about accepting a tainted Republican victory as were supporters of Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004.
If McCain is perceived to have won the presidency by using dirty and even racist tactics – and if there is evidence of significant Republican vote-tampering – the reaction this time may resemble scenes from the Ukraine and other eastern European countries where corrupt powers-that-be tried to strong-arm election results.
At best, McCain could expect to inherit a deeply divided nation, wedged even farther apart by his decision to adopt win-at-any-cost tactics.
After a McCain “victory,” Republicans surely would taunt the Obama “losing” side to “get over it,” and many media “wise men” would counsel the acceptance of a McCain presidency “for the good of the country.”
But millions of Americans would likely not be so accommodating. They would recall the consequences of acquiescing to eight years of George W. Bush and might despise John McCain as yet another dishonest politician putting ambition ahead of his country.
These Americans would blame McCain for fanning the flames of “partisan rancor,” the same flames that he had vowed to extinguish. And it would not be clear whether those flames would finally flare out of control.
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth' are also available there. Or go to Amazon.com.
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