Can’t Shake the Devil’s Hand and Say You’re Only Kidding

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By Jeff Fecke, 10/11/08 • So as you know, the right has been getting a wee bit angry of late. It’s understandable; while elections are never over ’til the ballots are all counted, this one’s entering the late innings, and barring some sort of huge, game-changing event, it’s hard to see Barack Obama losing the election.

The right, of course, has been searching in vain for said game-changer; they hoped Bill Ayers would be it, but he wasn’t. Indeed, all attacking Obama over Ayers did was feed anger at Obama, leading to eliminationist rhetoric and scary, mob-like McCain rallies. Not something that’s a positive for the McCain campaign.

So this afternoon, just a few miles from where I type this, John McCain tried to pull things back from the edge:

As the town hall started, McCain was off with more pep than usual. Making the same old jokes, but with energy that reminded us of “the old McCain.” But would he use his power for good or evil? An audience member teed up a great big softball that could totally hit a dark side home run, asking, “We want you to fight at your next debate… we want to see s REAL fight at the debate, we want a STRONG leader for the next four years.” That is Minnesota nice for “RevWrightACORNAyers,” etc.

But then something weird happens: He acknowledges the “energy” people have been showing at rallies, and how glad he is that people are excited. But, he says, “I respect Sen. Obama and his accomplishments.” People booed at the mention of his name. McCain, visibly angry, stopped them: “I want EVERYONE to be respectful, and lets make sure we are.”

The very next questioner tried to push back on this request, noting that he needed to “tell the American the TRUTH about Barack Obama” — a not very subtle way, I think, to ask John McCain to NOT tell the truth about Barack Obama. McCain told her there’s a “difference between record and rhetoric, and I plan to talk about his record, respectfully… I don’t mean that has to reduce your ferocity, I just mean it has to be respectful.”

And then later, again, someone dangled a great big piece of low-hanging fruit in front of McCain: “I’m scared to bring up my child in a world where Barack Obama is president.”

McCain replies, “Well, I don’t want him to be president, either. I wouldn’t be running if I did. But,” and he pauses for emphasis, “you don’t have to be scared to have him be President of the United States.” A round of boos.

And he snaps back: “Well, obviously I think I’d be better.“

So John McCain feels the need to tell his supporters that the man he’s running against is not actually out to destroy America. Why? Because John McCain has been campaigning on a platform that Barack Obama will destroy America, and because he’s stoked the very anger he’s now trying to quell.

Republicans like to complain about the angry, bitter left. But for all the shenanigans surrounding the 2000 elections, we accepted George W. Bush as the lawful president because we had respect for the rule of law. We didn’t like it, but no groups of armed Democrats were running around making trouble, claiming Bush was dangerous — even as the Bush presidency proved to be disastrous.

But already, the righties are arming themselves because a black man is going to win the presidency. They’re calling him a terrorist, deliberately making him out to be a terrorist sympathizer, a true enemy of America, who will surrender to al Qaeda while he executes Christians in the city square.

The good news is that most Americans aren’t buying it. But some are. And that’s the fault of John McCain and his campaign, for deliberately stoking those fears, using fear of the other to attack Barack Obama. It won’t win the election for McCain. But it will make the next four years more dangerous for Obama and for our country. And so while it’s nice that McCain is now backing away from the ledge, grudgingly or no, it’s really the least he can do. He uncorked the bottle, he let the genie out. He will have to answer for that to someone higher than my pay grade. But for his actions in this campaign, he cannot be forgiven. All he can do is mitigate how reviled he should be.