Sigh. Once again, the difference between theory and practice turns out to be bigger in practice than in theory. Or, put another way, despite knowing as an intellectual matter that the McCain campaign has nowhere to go but down in terms of strategy, it’s still something of an emotional shock to see McCain and Palin engaged in what actually looks like a premeditated attempt to incite violence toward their opponent. First, check out McCain’s reaction when he asks, “Who is the real Barack Obama?” and a supporter shouts back “Terrorist!” loud enough for the microphone to pick it up:
There’s also this from Dana Milbank’s piece in the WaPo on Palin’s appearance yesterday: In Fla., Palin Goes for the Rough Stuff as Audience Boos Obama.
“And, according to the New York Times, he was a domestic terrorist and part of a group that, quote, ‘launched a campaign of bombings that would target the Pentagon and our U.S. Capitol,’” she continued.
“Boooo!” the crowd repeated.
“Kill him!” proposed one man in the audience.
Palin continued with the same approach today: Obama Hatred On Display Again At Palin Rally, Supporter Screams “Treason!”
“[Obama] said, too, that our troops in Afghanistan are ‘air raiding villages and killing civilians,’” Palin said, mischaracterizing a 2007 remark by Obama. “I hope Americans know that is not what our brave men and women in uniform are doing in Afghanistan. The U.S. military is fighting terrorism and protecting us and protecting our freedom.”
Shortly afterward, a male member of the crowd in Jacksonville, Florida, yelled “treason!” loudly enough to be picked up by television microphones.
There’s video of the incident at the site if you follow the link.
So, what am I saying here? Politics famously ain’t beanbag; isn’t it fair for McCain and Palin to question Obama’s past associations and statements, even if they do so (as they are here) in a misleading manner?
But the first: Even if you’re willing to believe that McCain and Palin weren’t intentionally provoking this reaction at first (which I guess I’ll give you, just for the sake of argument), they now have no excuse not to be aware of it. They are inciting crowds to express violent threats against Obama, and they know it. The question now is, will they continue to incite those threats?
But the second: What they’re doing here is being done in a particular context. McCain and Palin, by consciously choosing a strategy that involves whipping their most-ardent supporters into a violent frenzy, are opening a can of whoop-ass that taps into the ugliest currents of racist violence in our nation’s history. And yeah, I realize that having put all his chips in, having turned his campaign over to the same people who savaged him in 2000, having chosen to hazard his honor and reputation, McCain is not going to stop now. He’s going to go all the way, even if that means inciting what is, in essence, a lynch-mob mentality on the part of his followers.
But what does that really mean? Given the problems facing the nation, this sort of ugliness seems to me to be very unlikely to persuade the remaining persuadable voters. If anything, it is going to accelerate the movement of undecideds away from McCain. The only way I can see this whip-up-the-base strategy delivering the presidency to McCain is if he actually succeeds in inciting some crazed follower to assassinate Obama.
McCain knows those guys are out there. We all know it. We remember this incident from the DNC:
So, the ball’s in your court, McCain. Is this really the way you want to win the presidency? Are you really willing to sink that low? Because if you are, I’d like to suggest that the presidency, achieved in that manner, would not be worth the cost.