The following is an open letter I wrote to Senator McCain regarding the attack campaign aimed at linking Barack Obama to Bill Ayers in what I see as an unethical attempt to manipulate and exploit the fears and prejudices of voters through the strategical use of the word "terrorist."
This letter was originally written and circulated a couple weeks ago (with no response from the McCain campaign), so I have decided to post it here with a few small modifications to keep it current.
Any thoughts or comments are always appreciated. Also, feel free to forward to the McCain campaign.
Dear Senator McCain,
In the past, I have greatly admired you for your service to this country and though I don’t agree with you on all the issues, never have I doubted your honesty, integrity and patriotism.
So why am I writing you now?
On Saturday, October 4th, your running mate Sarah Palin accused Barack Obama of “palling around with terrorists,” referring to a feeble link between Senator Obama and William Ayers, former member of the Weather Underground. Since then, your campaign has repeatedly used the Ayers acquaintanceship in speeches, ads, and robo-calls throughout swing states.
That your campaign would choose to reference an acquaintanceship between Obama and William Ayers is not an unforgivable offense. I can even forgive your campaign’s selective distortion of the facts and the failure to accurately contextualize and characterize the relationship between the two men.*
But what I find unforgivable is the utter shamelessness and cynicism behind this transparent attempt to manipulate voters by appealing to their fears and prejudices.
When your campaign’s poll numbers began to dip and the electoral map presented you with fewer paths to the White House, you were left with a difficult choice. A) You could run the honest and honorable campaign you had promised and leave it up to the voters. Or B) you could exploit the anxieties of voters by smearing your opponent and linking him not just to a person, but to the one word that evokes our most painful memories and greatest fears -- “terrorism”.
Senator McCain, you know as well as anyone else that when the second plane crashed into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, our world changed, as did our definition of “terrorism.”
After the events of that morning, the word “terrorist” came to mean something radically different than it had forty years ago when the label could be applied across the board to members of the Ku-Klux-Klan and anti-war extremists like Bill Ayers alike. In the collective consciousness of Americans in our post-9/11 world, terrorism represents the most immediate, visceral and horrifying threat to our existence as a nation and a people.
So when I watched your running mate declare that Senator Obama was “palling around with terrorists,” I could hardly believe the audacity of such a statement.
Hearing these words, my thoughts immediately went to a picture taken last July 4th of Barack’s eldest daughter, Malia Obama, with her head sweetly resting against her father as the family celebrated not only Independence Day, but Malia’s 10th birthday. Barack had joked to the crowd of fellow picnickers in Butte, Montana that he had to remind his little girl all the fireworks and celebration weren’t just for her.
You look at the photos from that day and you don’t see a politician posing for a photo-op with his wife and kids. You see a family. A loving family. A patriotic family. An American family. You see a young girl who thinks the world of her father, who pokes fun at him for shaking hands with her friends when they come to the house, and teases him for the well-worn shoes he wears.
And then, against this backdrop, I think about ten year old Malia, having grown up in a world where children fear terrorism the same way Cold War children feared the Atom bomb, and I picture her innocently playing tag with her sister when she overhears the woman on the television say her father is friends with “terrorists.” I think of her standing there stunned and speechless as Governor Palin says that her dad “is not a man who sees America the way you and I do,” and wondering what the woman means when she says “you and I.”
Senator McCain, I can’t be sure whether or not you knew ahead of time that your running mate planned these attacks, but you have unabashedly continued them and in light of such remarks, you and Governor Palin owe an immediate apology—not to Senator Obama, who has shown again and again that he is more than capable of withstanding and rising above such bigotry—but to his daughters, who, no matter how well-protected they are from the ugliness of the political world, are sooner or later bound to catch wind of such an egregious and irresponsible accusation against their father.
Senator, you vowed to run a “clean, respectful” campaign, and I believed that you would follow through with that promise just as you did last February, when you responded to a question from reporters after a conservative radio talk host warmed up the crowd at one of your events by repeatedly referring to Barack as ‘Hussein’ Obama. Your response at that time was: “Whatever suggestion that was made that was [in] any way disparaging to the integrity, character, [and] honesty of either Senator Obama or Senator Clinton was wrong … I condemn it, and if I have any responsibility, I will take the responsibility, and I apologize for it.”
Senator McCain, I am asking for you to live up to your word by taking responsibility, condemning your running mate’s remarks and apologizing for such unfounded and unethical attacks. As someone seeking to obtain the highest office in the land, your decision on this manner is a reflection of your own “integrity, character [and] honesty,” and offers a glimpse of what we could expect from a McCain administration. May the better angels of your conscience guide you in this decision.
Michael David Hutchinson