WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com) – As Election Day drew closer and Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama was ahead in many opinion polls, more and more incidents of veiled as well as not-so-hidden efforts to stoke religious fear and racial hatred popped up in and around the campaign of Republican nominee Sen. John McCain and among White voters. The attacks are aimed at defeating Sen. Obama at the ballot box November 4.
After a week of angry diatribes before raucous crowds, it appeared that the GOP presidential hopeful and his running mate understood that a line had been crossed. Criticism of campaign rhetoric widely labeled divisive and racist forced Sen. McCain to correct a woman who called Mr. Obama an Arab during an Oct. 10 rally. The Arizona senator also called his Democratic opponent a decent man and a “family man.”
Rep. John Lewis warned the McCain campaign against vicious verbal assaults that appeal to prejudices and fear. “Sen. McCain and Gov. (Sarah) Palin are playing with fire, and if they are not careful, that fire will consume us all,” he said in an Oct. 11 statement. “Toxic language” was used by staunch segregationist George Wallace, then-governor of Alabama, in the battle against civil rights, observed Rep. Lewis.
Gov. Wallace “created the climate and conditions that encouraged vicious attacks against innocent Americans,” said the Georgia Democrat. He later gave Mr. McCain credit for changing the tone of the campaign.
Though the McCain talking points changed, the attacks went unabated: At rallies Oct. 11 the McCain-Palin team attacked Mr. Obama as a man who supported “unlimited abortions” and who was ready to spend taxpayer dollars on huge government programs.
“I think it’s too early to declare victory, because Barack Obama is Black,” CNN analyst and former adviser to both Republican and Democratic presidents David Gergen said concerning instant polls favoring Sen. Obama after the second presidential debate Oct. 7. “And until we play out the issue of race in this country, I don’t think we’ll know and may (not until) late in the campaign.”
There is another, parallel hate campaign–Islamophobia–which not only targets Sen. Obama, but includes millions of innocent Muslims in this country, spreading fear, bigotry and misinformation against the Muslim population and the Islamic faith. That campaign has been exposed in a Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) media report “Smearcasting: How Islamophobes Use Media to Spread Fear, Bigotry and Misinformation.”
Sen. Obama’s opponents use “coded” language attempting to define some of his virtues as liabilities: from jokes by Gov. Palin about Sen. Obama being a “community organizer” on the one hand; to claims that he is an “elitist” and out of touch with “ordinary” Americans, on the other hand; all the way to Sen. McCain referring to Sen. Obama during their Oct. 7 debate as “that one.”
It was a revealing moment during the second of three presidential debates, in which Sen. McCain’s disdain for Sen. Obama was apparent for all to see. While talking about energy reform, the Arizona senator glanced at his rival dismissively, and referred to him as “that one” rather than calling the Illinois senator by his name.
Fox News commentator Sean Hannity went so far on his show as to level the unsubstantiated charge that Sen. Obama’s community organizing work in Chicago (before he launched his political career) was “training for a radical overthrow of the government.” The incendiary claim was authenticated only by another rabidly anti-Obama commentator named Andy Martin.
Among Republican grassroots activists, conservative talk radio hosts, all the way up apparently to some McCain campaign decision makers, there is an increasing call for Sen. McCain to go back on his pledge to leave Sen. Obama’s former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright out of the campaign. They want Sen. McCain to “Willie Hortonize” Sen. Obama. They want relentless attacks on Sen. Obama’s background, including his religion and his tenuous connections to former 1960s radical William Ayers.
Some of those attending McCain-Palin rallies have already been incited to hate. The Secret Service is investigating press reports that someone shouted “Kill him” at a rally after Gov. Palin connected Sen. Obama to Mr. Ayers, a co-founder in the 1960s–when Sen. Obama was eight-years-old–of the Weather Underground, a militant faction of the Students for a Democratic Society. At another McCain rally in Pennsylvania, Mr. McCain was interrupted by someone shouting “socialist,” “terrorist,” and “liar.”
“Islamophobia has worked its way into our current 2008 election,” Steve Rendell, one of the authors of “Smearcasting” told The Final Call. “And it expressed itself in the fantasy of a right-wing pundit who decided that she saw symbols of terrorism–this is actually a true story–in a ‘Dunkin Donuts’ advertisement.”
There were speakers at McCain-Palin rallies who have continued unchecked by the candidates as they refer to the Democratic nominee as “Barack Hussein Obama.” They emphasize his middle name to imply that Sen. Obama is a Muslim. At a Lehigh County, Pennsylvania event Oct. 8, county Republican chairman Bill Platt mentioned Sen. Obama’s former reluctance to wear an American flag lapel pin saying: “Think about how you’ll feel on Nov. 5 if you see the news that Barack Obama, Barack Hussein Obama, is president of the United States.”
That is one of the reasons FAIR said it issued the “Smearcasting” report. “The campaign to suggest that Barack Obama is a ‘secret Muslim’ is having an affect” on the election, Mr. Rendell said. “We know from polls that show that from 10 to 15 percent of people believe that Barack Obama is actually a Muslim.
“Our problem with the way the press covers that story is they just look at the story and they treat as a simple fact-checking issue: ‘Is he a Muslim or not?’ and they come back and they usually report that ‘even though there is a campaign to say that he is a Muslim. We can find no evidence of that.’
“The problem with the press treating it just as a fact-check is they come back and say the smear is not true. The suggestion there is that if it were true, it would be something bad. In other words, it’s treating being a Muslim as something suspicious or bad,” Mr. Rendell continued.
Mr. Hannity and other Fox News personalities are among the “Smearcasting” report’s “Dirty Dozen: Who’s Who Among America’s Leading Islamophobes.” Others include Fox’s Bill O’Reilly, CNN host Glenn Beck, Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) personality Pat Robertson, Michelle Malkin, David Horowitz, Steve Emerson and Daniel Pipes.
“These bigots aren’t just people standing on the street corner, ranting with their hate,” Mr. Rendell continued. “They are people who have a special privilege and a special access to our mass media and are able to bring this message, which is growing in the mass media. We have evidence that Islamophobia is reaching greater numbers of people, and much of that is because of the compliance of the mass media.
“The message is bigotry that dehumanizes Muslims, makes them seem alien. Stereotypes usually include that Islam and its followers–Muslims–are prone to violence and intolerance. Just like in any form of bigotry there is a dehumanization process and an attempt to make them seem alien, otherly, and somewhat less than human,” Mr. Rendell said.
The dehumanization campaign against Sen. Obama is following the script. “This is not a man who sees America like you and I see America,” Gov. Palin told a group of donors in Colorado Oct. 8 according to published reports. Sen. Obama, she continued “is someone who sees America it seems, as being so imperfect, imperfect enough, that he’s palling around with terrorists who would target their own country,” she said, referring to Sen. Obama’s loose connection to Mr. Ayers.
Republicans are injecting “fear and loathing” into the campaign, Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Joseph Biden complained. “The idea that a leading American politician, who might be vice president of the United States would not just stop mid-sentence and turn and condemn that, it’s just a slippery slope, it’s a place that we shouldn’t be going,” Sen. Biden said Oct. 8 on the “Today Show,” in reference to shouts of “terrorist” when Sen. Obama’s name was mentioned at Gov. Palin’s rallies. “This is over the top.”