“What a man sow shall he reap --
And you know that talk is cheap...”
- Bob Marley
So when Representative Lewis -- a Georgia Democrat and veteran of the civil rights movement – recently denounced the McCain/Palin campaign for its use of divisive rhetoric and said the negative tone of the Republican presidential campaign reminded him of the hateful atmosphere that segregationist Governor George Wallace fostered in Alabama in the 1960s, he was calling it like it is.
I have been writing, speaking and blogging extensively of late about the hate speech epidemic in America, which has been mostly playing out on the airwaves of shock jock talk radio. Knowing the tenor of the times, I was unsurprised when the tone of the presidential campaign veered into similar territory. The truth is that Lewis simply called it like it is when he said McCain and running mate Sarah Palin were ''sowing the seeds of hatred and division, and there is no need for this hostility in our political discourse.'' Rather than rejecting his remarks as ''shocking and beyond the pale,'' McCain should have listened to Lewis, who is one of three people the Arizona Senator said he would “rely heavily on” if elected president.
Lewis was also right that the fear and loathing being expressed on the campaign trail in 2008 is frighteningly similar to that of the dark days of 1968. Those of us who were around at the time remember well what happened then, shortly after the hate speaking began. As Lewis noted, ''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.''
So it doesn’t take a genius, or a lot of imagination, to think of what could happen next. Remember the recent shooting at the Unitarian-Universalist church in Knoxville? Remember the 1968 shooting at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis?? And the subsequent one at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles??? I certainly do! That’s why I believe the wise man John Lewis when he points out that the McCain/Palin ticket is “playing with fire.” And as the late political analyst Robert Nesta Markey once aptly remarked, “Catch a fire - you’re gonna get burned!”
So please, John McCain: You’re better than that! Stop the hate speech before it’s too late. If not, I fear the fire next time may consume us all for decades to come...