In recent weeks I’ve felt drained, tired, and yet, determined to take this Country back. I’ve been fighting since that dark moment in my youth when Reagan became President. There have been many moments when it was hard to scrape even a teaspoon of optimism from the news of the day.
But tonight, hope and optimism are in the air. A real victory is in reach as we gathered for yet another battle with the old merchants of fear, hate and division. So, volunteer, take action, donate—do what you can to ensure a victory.
We are on the cusp of a great change in America. That is the good news. Of course, any defeat on Election Day will give conservatives "permission" to release their demons—and that is the bad news.
Recently, Civil Rights Hero John Lewis, warned John McCain and the Republican Party about their growing embrace of a culture of hate. He was attacked (yet again) for speaking truth.
We should listen...
It is not hard to gather evidence that rallies for the McCain/Palin ticket are becoming hate fests. The appeals to racism, code words and dog whistle invitations to the dark side are well documented. Many newspaper Editorial Boards have cited this atmosphere of hate as a reason to endorse Senator Obama over Senator McCain. It was high on the list of reasons that Colin Powell gave when he endorsed Obama last Sunday on Meet the Press
I also believe that on the Republican side over the last seven weeks, the approach of the Republican Party and Mr. McCain has become narrower and narrower. Mr. Obama, at the same time, has given us a more inclusive, broader reach into the needs and aspirations of our people. He's crossing lines--ethnic lines, racial lines, generational lines. He's thinking about all villages have values, all towns have values, not just small towns have values.
And I've also been disappointed, frankly, by some of the approaches that Senator McCain has taken recently, or his campaign ads, on issues that are not really central to the problems that the American people are worried about. [snip]
I'm also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say. And it is permitted to be said such things as, "Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim." Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he's a Christian. He's always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer's no, that's not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, "He's a Muslim and he might be associated terrorists." This is not the way we should be doing it in America.
Powell’s longtime aide, Larry Wilkerson, elaborated on the embrace of hate in a recent interview with Foreign Policy Magazine:
FP: What’s your take on the tone of the campaign?
LW: I was fully expecting the grand wizard of the Klu Klux Klan to arrive from Maryland and endorse McCain. I was becoming frightened that we were returning to 1968, when they assassinated Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. Those were bad times.
One of the most dramatic moments for me was when I was watching McCain on television, and I thought I saw in McCain’s eyes himself, when someone yelled something out, a recognition of, ‘Oh, God, what have I done?’ This is not McCain; he doesn’t cater to this. But for the first time in his political life, I think he realized that there are some strange people in the Republican tent. My father used to say, ‘Larry beware of the left because they will bankrupt you; beware of the right because they will kill you.’
That look in McCain’s eyes was something I have noticed as well. His only pathway to victory is through hate. To win, he must harness vast amounts of hatred and fear and encourage those emotions to trump hope, self interest and reason. It has happened before, so it is a viable pathway to victory, but it has a huge moral cost. Every now and then you can see in McCain’s eyes an awareness of that cost and a real fear for his soul.
John Lewis saw that in McCain’s eyes and tried to warn him about the path he was embracing. The comment was made on the Politico web site in a thread where "known" political figures weigh in on topics posted by the site. On that day, the question was about the "tone" of the McCain/Palin Campaign. Here is what John Lewis wrote:
As one who was a victim of violence and hate during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, I am deeply disturbed by the negative tone of the McCain-Palin campaign. What I am seeing reminds me too much of another destructive period in American history. Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin are sowing the seeds of hatred and division, and there is no need for this hostility in our political discourse.
During another period, in the not too distant past, there was a governor of the state of Alabama named George Wallace who also became a presidential candidate. George Wallace never threw a bomb. He never fired a gun, but he created the climate and the conditions that encouraged vicious attacks against innocent Americans who were simply trying to exercise their constitutional rights. Because of this atmosphere of hate, four little girls were killed on Sunday morning when a church was bombed in Birmingham, Alabama.
As public figures with the power to influence and persuade, Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin are playing with fire, and if they are not careful, that fire will consume us all. They are playing a very dangerous game that disregards the value of the political process and cheapens our entire democracy. We can do better. The American people deserve better.
Of course, McCain latched onto the mention of George Wallace and he was hurt and outraged by the comparison of his campaign to the late Governor of Alabama. Quickly, the actual words and message of John Lewis were buried in a dust storm of spin. Suddenly, Lewis was "out of line", "wrong" and attacked for a slanted interpretation of his words. The Obama campaign backed away from him and so did many progressives. And yet, John Lewis was correct. He was spot on and once again speaking truth to any with ears open enough to hear it.
John McCain is George Wallace.
This is a fact.
Both men, willingly embraced the dark side of human nature in the pursuit of power and both men have been horrified by that embrace—you can see it in their eyes.
Wallace has gone down in history as one of America’s most well known racists. For many, he is the archetype Southern Racist, but the truth is more complicated. Wallace began his political career as a FDR Progressive Democrat. He was tolerant on the "race question" and in his first run for Governor of Alabama in 1958 he was endorsed by the NAACP. His opponent was endorsed by the KKK. His opponent won through his embrace of hate and fear.
And this is where John McCain and George Wallace shared their first common bond. Both men were beaten by candidates who embraced negative politics and direct appeals to racism, fear and hate for political power. Wallace had his lesson in 1958. McCain was schooled by the dark side in 2000. And both men chose the same response to their defeat—they decided to enthusiastically embraced the politics of hate in their next run for the office they had just lost.
A few years ago, PBS ran a great documentary about George Wallace called "Setting the Woods on Fire" (a transcript of the show can be found here and here). An interview with Dan Carter, an aide to George Wallace, captured the moment when Wallace sold his soul for power:
And so, the night that he lost that race, he sat outside the hotel -- his headquarters hotel in Montgomery -- with some of his friends, and they went over "why did we lose?" -- these different factors. And he said, "Boys, we can talk about this all we want to; we know why I lost. I lost because John Patterson took a tough line on this race business." "John Patterson," he said, "outniggered me, and I'm never going to be outniggered again."
Wallace kept that promise and became the archetypal face of racism in America. At one point in the PBS documentary an aging George Wallace lies in a hospital bed, dying. He looks into the camera and through a haze of cigar smoke apologizes and admits that he was wrong. It was years after his embrace of the dark side and the terror of what he unleashed was still in his eyes.
John Lewis tried to warn John McCain about that fate and McCain has waved him off. More than that, McCain has attacked Lewis. And yet, when McCain is asked about the "tone" of his campaign or John Lewis you can see the flicker of terror in his eyes. Like Wallace, he has embraced the darkest demons of our collective fears as a pathway to victory. And like Wallace he knows that he is releasing demons that he can not control.
In last Friday’s NYTs, Russ Rymer wrote about John Lewis’ warning to John McCain. Rymer knew George Wallace. He covered him during Wallace’s runs for the White House in 1968, 1972 and 1976. He makes the case for the complexity of George Wallace (a complexity that is not dissimilar to the complexity of John McCain):
Likewise, to describe George Wallace as a simple racist is to give his biography short shrift. As a circuit court judge in the 1950s, Wallace was respectful toward blacks, and as a legislator from 1947 to 1953, he was a moderate. In 1948, when Strom Thurmond led the Southern delegations out of the Democratic convention to protest the party’s pioneer civil rights plank, Wallace stayed in his seat. Though no fan of the plank, he was yet more Democrat than demagogue, and was instrumental in rallying the other Southern alternate delegates to save the convention’s quorum, and pass its platform.
He might have carried a tolerant message into the Alabama governor’s mansion in 1958, but he lost the race after spurning the support of the Ku Klux Klan (which then backed his primary opponent, John Patterson) and being endorsed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Sadly for Wallace’s state, his region, his nation and himself, he did not respond as John Lewis did after his defeat by Carmichael. Mr. Lewis, whenever confronted with calls to divisiveness, chose to redouble his commitment to reason and tolerance. After his loss to Mr. Patterson, Wallace is said to have turned to an aide and declared, "I was out-niggered ... and I’ll never be out-niggered again."
After Wallace finally won the governorship in 1962, his administration was never as race-hostile as his campaign appeals implied; black leaders found his office door open, and often his mind, too. But he would eternally pay the price for the methods he used to gain that office.
Wallace had released the hounds of hate. It started as a tool to mobilize voters—a tool Wallace thought that he could control. He could not. Rymer relates a story that could happen any day now at a McCain/Palin rally if the culture of hate is allowed to grow unchecked:
I once saw that price on vivid display, at a Wallace for president rally in downtown Boston. In 1975, that city was contorted by its own race war over school busing, and the enormous two-tier assembly hall was packed. It was an angry crowd — a black television cameraman was punched as he walked up the aisle. In the middle of Wallace’s remarks, there was a loud explosion, and Wallace, who had been paralyzed by a bullet three years earlier, fell forward from his wheelchair into safety behind the podium.
The noise was caused by a crashing klieg light, knocked over in a fracas as a heckler in the balcony was attacked by the crowd. As Wallace clambered back into his chair, his supporters beat the protester bloody and tried to dump him over the balcony rail. "Just an undecided voter, folks. Just an undecided voter," Wallace pleaded into his microphone, but there was no quelling the fire. "Kill him! Kill him! Kill him!" people in the hall thundered, until the man was rescued — barely — by Secret Service agents. [snip]
Mr. Lewis might be deemed generous in wishing on no other member of his profession the harrowed look I witnessed in George Wallace’s eyes as he struggled up off the floor in Boston and beheld what a hell he’d wrought.
The questions, "was George Wallace a racist?" or "is John McCain a racist?" are both irrelevant. Racism is not their prime fault, nor is it their motivation. No, it is the cynical embrace of hate politics as a pathway to power that binds and damns both McCain and Wallace.
I've spent a lot of time over the years thinking about the politicians who so fully fuel the fires of race-based hate in America. Some were straight up tell-it-to-your-face old school racists. They were bad, but you always knew were you stood with them.
Others were racist, but hid their views in weasel words that were designed to always give them cover from accountability. These folks are worse than tell-it-to-your-face racists in my book, but the good news is that this pathetic breed is dying out.
And then there were the ones who cynically exploited racism as a political tool for political gain. They knew what they were doing. They did not agree with the goals of a racist agenda, but they knew a well placed pander here and there could win elections. And so, they fueled the fires of hate for their own political gain.
George Wallace was one of those politicians and so is John McCain. IMHO this puts both men in a class far below racists in the order of despicable creatures.
Wallace was not a racist in my book, but he is a creature that is even worse. And so is John McCain.
Both men, have embraced what divides us as a pathway to power and both men came to that choice after losing a political battle to the forces of hate. Instead of getting back up and fighting for what is right, both Wallace and McCain surrendered their integrity in an embrace of hate and fear as a pathway to power.
It is a horrific choice and they know that they made it—from time to time you can see it in their eyes.
John Lewis courageously offered John McCain a lifeline and he has been attacked for the effort. He deserves our praise. John McCain should beg his forgiveness.
It was on the eve of the Civil War when Abraham Lincoln gave his First Inaugural speech. He closed the speech with an appeal to the better angels of our nature:
I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.
It is great advice for our Nation as we try to get pass the many years of Republican appeals to the basest demons of our fears. There is a lot of work to do to repair the damage of years of Republican failures. We will need to appeal to the best in each of us and yet, John McCain is actively working to release the demons of hate and racism that have long plagued our Republic. Shame on him.
This hate is in the air and it will have to be confronted and dissipated. It will not be easy, but we can do this.
The Drive By Truckers capture the essence and the costs of this kind of political pandering in their great Southern Rock Opera (emphasis added):
[Scene: set in Hell, September 1998. Told from the Devil's point of view]
Throw another log on the fire, boys, George Wallace is coming to stay
When he met St. Peter at the pearly gates, I'd like to think that a black man stood in the way.
I know "All should be forgiven", but he did what he done so well
So throw another log on the fire boys,
George Wallace is a coming...
Now, he said he was the best friend a black man from Alabama ever had,
And I have to admit, compared to Fob James, George Wallace don't seem that bad
And if it's true that he wasn't a racist and he just did all them things for the votes
I guess Hell's just the place for "kiss ass politicians" who pander to assholes. [snip]
Now the Devil's got a Wallace sticker on the back of his car.
Long ago the Devil placed a Bush sticker over his Wallace tag and McCain is pandering to all the right assholes to ensure that the Devil’s Ford Explorer now sports a McCain/Palin 2008 sticker.
McCain’s pandering is amazing, but he does it with just enough Straight Talk rhetoric to fool the easily bamboozled. Any close inspection of McCain’s record since 2000 shows him selling out any principled stand if it competes with his ambition.
McCain/Palin panders to the basest elements of their party and America. They are playing with fire and they should be called on it. I am, yet again, proud of John Lewis.
I have long been impressed by Barack Obama. Two things have really inspired me about him. One, he does not appeal to our fears—he appeals to our hopes. And two, like Lincoln he encourages our Nation to embrace the better angels of our nature.
Meanwhile, John McCain and the Republican Party seek to release our fears, our terrors and our hate. They hope that once again and appeal to the basest demons of our fears will sweep them into office.
Not this time!
It is 2008. We have less that ten days to Take Our Country Back. Now is the time to reject the politics of fear and hate. Now is the time to volunteer, take action, donate and do what you can to ensure victory.
John McCain does not know it yet, but maybe, just maybe, once he has been defeated he will realize that we saved him from following in the footsteps of George Wallace. I’ve seen the fear in his eyes and McCain needs to be defeated, not only for the good of the Nation, but for his own good as well.