“Racism is man’s greatest threat to man – the maximum of hatred for the minimum of reason”. Abraham Heschel (Jewish philosopher)
Obama has spent two highly publicized and reported years on the campaign trail, giving numerous interviews and speeches; everything that can be revealed has been revealed, yet a woman at a McCain rally last week saw fit to state, “I don’t trust him, he’s an Arab”. This campaign has brought to the surface the astounding ignorance and underlying bigotry which is still prevalent in American society today, going against it's very values.
McCain’s response was far from adequate when he told the ill-informed woman that Obama was not an Arab. “No ma’am” he said, shaking his head, “He’s a decent family man”. So according to McCain’s reasoning, being an Arab and being a decent family man are two separate terms which don’t coincide. Obama is of course a Christian, but really, should this matter. The idea that one religious group or one social class is more patriotic than another is absurd - all Americans are patriotic. McCain’s half-baked response only served to invite more scepticism of a culture many Americans are still ill-informed about. The mainstream media bear a huge responsibility in this. When did it become acceptable to vilify a whole race because of the actions of a few? With certain groups sending out leaflets and emails falsifying and vilifying Obama’s character and record with accusations such as, ‘He’s a terrorist’, ‘He can’t be trusted’, ‘He’s a Muslim’, this perpetuation of lies continues.
“Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities”. Francois-Marie Voltaire (French philosopher)
The race-baiting has been encouraged by elite right-wing hardliners with coded words and phrases through speeches/ads, and bluntly repeated by those who see the rabble-rousing of the GOP as social acceptance of their bigotry. Obama and Biden’s honourable vision for the nation is for it to be united, and they are doing all they can to bridge the divides; as Obama stated, “There is not a liberal America and a conservative America - there is the United States of America. There is not a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America - there’s the United States of America”. McCain and Palin, through their divisive speeches are creating an opposing climate. Palin in particular is guilty of creating bigger divides through her inflammatory comments; by then looking on silently when some of her angry supporters shouted threats at Obama, she gave permissibility to their racism. McCain is guilty too, and has yet to publically address and condone this race-baiting.
He may have cried foul at John Lewis’s attack but it didn’t alter the fact that the civil rights leader’s comments were justifiable, as both he and Palin have been fanning the flames of discrimination at their rallies with their attacks on Obama – words create a climate. By constantly focusing the crowd’s attention on Obama’s middle-name, and repeatedly accusing him of being “A man who does not see America as you and I see America” and of “Pallin’ around with terrorists”, were they really that surprised when a few angry supporters called out “Terrorist”, “Treason” and “Kill him”. How did they expect their veiled comments to be taken? McCain may try and shirk that responsibility, but by basing their campaign around such outrageous accusations, they are responsible for what they create or what they perpetuate.
“There is sin and evil in the world, and we’re enjoined by Scripture and the Lord Jesus to oppose it with all our might. Our nation, too, has a legacy of evil with which it must deal. The glory of this land has been its capacity for transcending the moral evils of our past. For example, the long struggle of minority citizens for equal rights, once a source of disunity and civil war is now a point of pride for all Americans. We must never go back. There is no room for racism, anti-Semitism, or other forms of ethnic and racial hatred in this country.
I know that you’ve been horrified, as have I, by the resurgence of some hate groups preaching bigotry and prejudice. Use the mighty voice of your pulpits and the powerful standing of your churches to denounce and isolate these hate groups in our midst. The commandment given us is clear and simple: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Ronald Reagan
The commandment is clear and simple, and the message as applicable now as it has ever been, but how do you call for people to be compassionate and tolerant when they are being encouraged to do the opposite by people they hold in esteem. When questioned about his increasingly negative campaign focusing on a flimsy connection to Ayers, McCain replied “I don’t care about some old washed-up terrorist”, but then a few days later adamantly defended his robo-calls, again focusing on Ayers.
The danger of McCain’s negative campaign is that he is sending out mixed messages; on one hand he is telling the crowd that Obama is dangerous and to be feared, and then on the other hand he is telling them that Obama is not be feared. Well how can his supporters not be fearful of a man he and his running-mate have falsely accused of “pallin’ around with terrorists”? Note their use of plural. McCain posed the question relentlessly, “Who is the real Barack Obama?” and in doing so instilled fear in the minds of his audience, letting their imagination run amok. Then when later answering questions from his supporters, questions fuelled by his own comments, he reveals who the real Obama is; “He’s a decent family man... he’s not to be feared as President”. Which poses the question, well if you know who he really is, why are you asking?
Both McCain and Palin have abused their political status to breed division in America for political gain, and it is therefore their responsibility to diminish any enmity that both have raised in some of their supporters. There should be no room for bigotry in today’s society, and this irresponsible perpetuation is as deplorable as it is dangerous. When you have one side encouraging the message of hope, and the other side encouraging the message of fear, there can only be, and has to be one clear winner. Hope.
“If you lose hope, somehow you lose the vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of it all. And so today I still have a dream”. Martin Luther King
For the sake of a truly united America, one can only hope that thoughtful intelligence overrides thoughtless ignorance on November 4th, and that this dream - a land where people are judged not on the colour of their skin but by the content of their character - finally becomes a reality.