today in black history

May 30, 2024

African American Episcopal Zion (A.M.E.Z.)Bishop James W. Hood, a fierce advocate for Blacks' rights, was born in 1831.

McCain’s Straight Hate Express

POSTED: October 12, 2008, 12:00 am

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Make no mistake about it. John McCain’s supporters hate Senator Barack Obama and can barely contain their rage. At campaign stop after campaign stop, the McCain entourage is looking like it’s on the “Straight Hate Express,” as snarling supporters hurl invective after invective at their candidate’s opponent. Some of the scenes are reminiscent of White Citizen Council meetings during the heyday of Jim Crow when whites implored their civic leaders to protect the virtue of their community by keeping Negroes in their place.

For certain, the racial fuse was lit during the Democratic primary when Senator Hillary Clinton labeled Obama an elitist and then feigned ignorance when asked if she thought he was a Muslim. Since that time, and even earlier just by virtue of him being Black, the senator from Illinois has been walking a tightrope; trying to remain race neutral while race shadowed his every move. Now those racial demons have been awakened by a Republican campaign that sees its chances for victory fading in the fog of the nation’s economic meltdown.

There were indications one week ago that this campaign was about to take an ugly turn and it did. Just prior to the second presidential debate the McCain campaign signaled that it was going to go negative and attack Senator Obama for his supposed relationship former Weather Underground member William Ayers. The Republican ticket, seeing its hopes fade in battleground states such as Michigan and Ohio, decided to invoke Ayer’s name despite the fact that he and Senator Obama have only had a casual acquaintance tied to community activities, and the acts of the Weather Underground were committed during the Vietnam War era when the senator was a child. Leading the charge for team McCain has been running mate Sarah Palin, an ironic development given that she was severely reprimanded by an investigation in her home state that concluded she abused her power in attempting to fire a state official.

The anticipation prior to the last debate was that Senator McCain would unleash a similar attack upon Senator Obama, but it never occurred during the nationally televised town hall meeting. Instead, McCain took the show on the road and before angry supporters painted the picture of his rival as a shady, suspicious terrorist sympathizer and in the process, without ever referring to race, subliminally reminded crowds that Senator Obama is Black. It worked. With each rally the crowds grew angrier and more hate filled. As McCain and Palin took turns painting Obama as anti-American, with Plain going so far as to suggest the Democrat does not support the troops in Afghanistan, the more agitated their supporter grew. Soon the hate started to boil over during the last week as crowds have shouted “kill him,” “terrorist,” and “off with his head” as they turned their hate toward Senator Obama. Some in the all white McCain rallies expressed fear over the prospect of an Obama presidency.

It will probably go down as the turning point in the 2008 general election campaign. Race has been in the backdrop of this election since Senator Obama announced his candidacy. For a time even his racial “credentials” were being questioned by Blacks who were unfamiliar with his life story and did not identify with the Hawaiian born senator. Once he cleared that hurdle, he faced criticism from Senator Clinton that he did not understand the issues facing the working class and that he was an elitist. Many political observers viewed Clinton’s charge as an appeal to white, working class voters who had doubts about Obama due to his race. For Blacks it was a reminder of a time when simply possessing an education and clinging to middle class sensibilities would subject one to the charge of being “uppity.”

Lacking the sophistication of earlier attempts to racialize the campaign, the McCain campaign’s tactics in recent days have borrowed heavily from the playbook of the Jim Crow era in America. It has principally been a call to “patriotism” to combat a subversive force [Senator Obama] who does not share the values [whiteness] of God fearing Americans and who sympathizes with the enemy [Arab Muslims] and share their worldview, thus his middle name of Hussein. It has been a rather sinister, yet effectively targeted, strategy to drive a wedge between white working class voters and Senator Obama. Outside of the raucous McCain campaign rallies some evidence of the strategy’s effectiveness can be heard in the reluctance of white, union voters to throw their support behind Senator Obama; despite their union’s endorsement and his alignment with their issues.

It’s enough to make Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms rise from the dead. There has perhaps been no other presidential campaign in recent history that has traded so heavily upon racial animus to disparage a candidate. Even the late Alabama Governor George Wallace’s “state’s rights” campaign and Richard Nixon’s “southern strategy” was not as “in your face” as what is occurring at McCain rallies.

With some supporters expressing violent thoughts when referring to Senator Obama, the campaign has entered into a dangerous new phase where some white voters feel they are at liberty to make life threatening remarks, or commit acts, against Senator Obama and his family. Even Senator McCain’s attempt to tone down the rhetoric of his supporters was met with boos. It was perhaps too little, too late in a campaign that the nation must now be concerned has the potential to ignite a racial firestorm before and after Election Day on November 4.

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