Swimming In The Toilet | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Swimming In The Toilet

"Kill him!" "He's a terrorist!" "Off with his head!" "Traitor!" "He's an Arab." We all know that the first African American president will not be elected without ugly racist by-products left in the ditch. And the John McCain campaign went down that road last week, with running mate Sarah Palin acting as the instigator, scaring the racial epithets out of people who already want to believe the lies that Obama is a Muslim or a terrorist-in-waiting. Of course, people are going to respond with ugliness, especially with a beautiful woman issuing the invitation and then smiling sweetly at however the crowd responds to her implications that Obama isn't telling the whole truth about a man he (and Republicans) served on an education board with—all the while avoiding the real issues facing America.

Civil rights great and now Georgia Congressman John Lewis said over the weekend that the McCain-Palin rallies—with visuals like "Obama bin Lyin" signs and stuffed monkeys wearing Obama stickers—are the worst public display of racist vitriol since the race-baiting campaign of George Wallace for president in 1968.

The McCain campaign took offense at Lewis' statements, and responded over the weekend that they couldn't help how their crowds react.

The truth is, they can't. Not at this point anyway. Their support base has pretty much dwindled to a thin coalition of people who are mostly there because either they make more than $250,000 a year and don't want to "sacrifice" their Bush tax cut, or they are radical racist/religious zealots who have been led to believe for more than 20 years that hateful views are welcome in the Republican Party.

I can hear the chorus of protests: "NOOOO. Not all Republicans are racist!"

Of course they're not. But the party itself has made a deal with the devil ever since the Reagan "welfare queen" years, continuing through the Bush I "Willie Horton" campaign and through the Bush II "McCain black baby rumor" stunt that anything goes when it comes to winning elections. Even pushing racist hate. Or, not speaking out against it.

In more recent years, that "southern strategy" (which has worked nationally, not just down here) has started to dwindle, as white Americans become less prone to both bigotry and being assumed to be bigots. And I truly believe that, at this point in our history, it will not work on a national stage, and has limited usefulness even here in the South. Younger voters certainly hate it, as do many older ones.

But that doesn't mean all the candidates, political operatives and even newspaper columnists have gotten the message that it's time to mothball the hate. That was clear from watching McCain stumble through the minefield in recent days, trying not to offend his and Palin's more bigoted supporters while hoping to tone down the hate in his town-hall meetings that is disgusting a nation.

One could say, and pray, that this is what ye ole southern strategy has come down to: angry rallies with a woman who forgot to brush her hair before leaving the house standing in McCain's face and proclaiming that she is afraid of Obama because he is "an Arab." This isn't new rhetoric; what we're seeing are the seeds of hate the Republican Party cynically sowed over the years spring up into nasty and poisonous weeds on the national stage.

You could say that the chickens are roosting in a very public way.

Ultimately, I think that's good, even as it's very difficult to watch. John Lewis may have offended the McCain camp with his pointed message, but essentially he was right. When is the last time we've seen a nominee for one of the nation's two highest offices beat a political rally into a frenzy of fear over the (so-called) ethnic heritage and ties of an opponent? Yep, the George Wallace campaign.

The very problem, of course, is that the McCain campaign still refuses to call the hatemongers and the fearful out in any kind of real way. The "Arab" lady drew frustration from him, but he still did not have the gumption to state that, "No, Obama is not Arab, or Muslim. He is a devout Christian."

He did not have the courage to look hate in the eye and counter it.

I think of how many times I have been in living rooms in Mississippi and heard an ethnic joke or a quip about white people in my home county putting "n*ggers" under a dam when they got "uppity." Each time, I had to make a choice: speak up, or walk out, or both. Each time I did—usually both. I pissed off some people I care about mightily with that choice, but it was the only right one.

But right here in Mississippi, appeals for the bigoted vote is still condoned by many—at least by their refusal to call it for what it is. Case in point: On Aug. 26, Clarion-Ledger columnist Sid Salter wrote a column entitled "Musgrove likely to face flag vote issue as he did in 2003." He was talking about the vicious and racist "attacking our flag" campaign Gov. Haley Barbour waged against Musgrove because the Democrat had taken the sadly courageous stand of supporting relegating the Confederate battle emblem to museums and private institutions rather than remain part of our state flag.

As of then, Musgrove's opponent for the U.S. Senate, Roger Wicker, had not yet dipped his hand into that toilet. But he "likely" would, Salter wrote. After that opening paragraph, Salter had the chance to take the high road by condemning such an act before it happened, and maybe stopping it.

He didn't, though. Other than comparing the flag ploy to a "bad penny," Salter basically wrote a column with enough voter statistics to build a case for using the strategy, should someone choose to. And guess what you can now see in Wicker campaign ads—criticism of Musgrove for "attacking our flag."

I've kept that Salter column on my desk for weeks. It made my skin crawl—and precisely because he did not use his bully pulpit to proclaim to readers around the state why that would be a despicable move, and set back racial progress in Mississippi. "[F]or Musgrove opponents, the flag referendum is the gift that keeps on giving," the column ended.

Yes, the gift of division. It's one neither the state of Mississippi nor America needs in 2008. Real leaders—whether a national presidential candidate or a local columnist—meet racism head on. They call it out. They tell it it's not welcome. And they send it back to the ditch where it belongs.

Previous Comments

ID
139193
Comment

Great Donna. John Lewis might have slightly overreacted but something along that way needed saying. My prayers are that the southern stratety and similar ways are on their last legs too. I await the young white southerners forging their own separate identity from the ole and ugly past of their parents and grandparents. I hope white women aren't gullible enough to see Palin as something worth emulating. She looks like a brokedown and worn out mule compared to the true brillance and lady-like qualities of Hillary Clinton although no one is perfect. All that hate and negativity Palin seem to naturally brings to the table take away any beauty or brillance she arguably possesses in my opinion.

Author
Walt
Date
2008-10-16T09:09:00-06:00
ID
139197
Comment

Palin has said NOTHING about issues that matter most to women - childcare, health care, access to contraception and real education about how we can protect ourselves from unwanted pregnancies. Oh, and one more very important one: closing the wage gap. These are our issues. To be confronted with a woman candidate who will not say one word about any of these things, well, all I can do is shake my head and vote for someone who will care for these things, even if he is a man.

Author
Izzy
Date
2008-10-16T09:29:12-06:00
ID
139232
Comment

In fairness to Hillary, she was more than lady-like, she was highly competent and professional for the most part excepting those few moments of desperation and too much influence from Bill or likeminded people. In my opinion Hillary is a great role model in politics, womanhood, education, drive, and a host of other marvelous attributes, no matter all the southern hate toward her. Palin isn't even remotely comparable or remarakable. I was shocked that McCain asked Obama to call out John Lewis, to apologize to him and to stop the negative campaigning. For the first time, I started to think McCain had already lost his mind due to the sudden onset of senility and republican propaganda. Obama handled it well with good explanations but without unnecessary retreat or acceptance of blame. I was left wondering if McCain really knows what seeds Sarah is sowing.

Author
Walt
Date
2008-10-16T12:55:27-06:00
ID
139292
Comment

It was remarkable and condescending that McCain dared to pretend that he is the victim in all this. I thought his party believed in taking "personal responsibility" for your actions? It's his attack pitbull who started his hatefest. He didn't even have class enough to apologize or to seize the national stage to send a message that the hate isn't welcome at his rallies. Lewis may have overdone the rhetoric, but he also has seen angry white mobs and knows what they were capable of not so long ago. Palin is beating up the kind of hate that can lead to terrible violence. It's not like every white person at the rallies of old did the actual crime. They left that to the Klan and the local sheriff departments. But it was their hate and fear that gave the killers permission. Lewis knows that, and McCain ought to, even if Palin has grown up under a rock.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2008-10-16T19:48:48-06:00
ID
139299
Comment

It was remarkable and condescending that McCain dared to pretend that he is the victim in all this. DING DING DING DING!!!! I sat there floored by that. As I've been harping on the last few days, McCain, Palin or anyone in their campaign have yet to issue apologies to Obama for what a few fringe people in their audiences have said about Obama. When I read or hear an apology from McCain/Palin, it will be the first time.

Author
golden eagle
Date
2008-10-16T23:23:55-06:00

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