Friday, October 10, 2008

Racism, Terror, McCain and Palin: The Original Crypto-racists

Ok, McCain and Palin actually are not at all the original crypto-racists. But this excellent article on The Root points out the coded language being used by their campaign shows quite clearly what's going on and how it fits in a history of using the "he-said, she-said" mode of the press to legitimize and equate negative campaigning (arguably used by Obama) with inciting hate and fear (which The Root points out is at best being tolerated, and far more likely being fostered, by McCain-Palin).

I can hear several people, including friends of mine, asserting that McCain and Palin are not being racist, they're just playing hardball. Which may indeed be the case, insofar as explicit racism -- they may not think Obama is inferior because of his race, but they are exploiting the very race/class lines that come from those assumptions. Kai Wright:

""It's as if the usual rules don't apply," he huffed in complaint about Obama's refusal to respond to smears masquerading as questions. "What does he plan for America? In short, who is the real Barack Obama?!"

The crowd was ready with an answer. "A terrorist!" is the cry several observers heard from at least one McCain fan. Similar slurs flew at McCain camp rallies all week. Someone at a Sarah Palin event in Florida hollered "kill him!" when she repeated her now-infamous smear about Obama "palling around with terrorists." (It's unclear whether the supporter meant Obama or '60s-radical-turned-academic Bill Ayers, the terrorist pal in question.) The crowd eventually turned on the press galley covering the speech, shouting threats and taunts. A black camera crew member was told, "Sit down, boy."

By yesterday, Team McCain had cooled things down a bit. They at least kept the race baiting out of McCain and Palin's mouths—even if they still haven't stopped others on the platform from conspicuously repeating "Barack Hussein Obama." But the crowd's reactions this week lay bare the coded language McCain and Palin have deliberately used. The message from the McCain camp was clear: This Obama guy is different than you in "essential" ways. He represents people who aren't like you. Don't trust him. He is other."

To really fully support such things requires a deeper exegesis than we have time for here. But I think the Southern Strategy that Daktari and I have been discussing is more alive and well than we suspected. I don't think it's such a conscious thing these days, but riling up an audience along the same lines as have been used for decades (and so aptly demonstrated in a key scene in To Kill a Mockingbird) can play into old, half-recognized prejudices and group-think that doesn't represent the feelings of the individual, but a less-rational, more hateful crowd-mind. We are very, very far from literal lynch mobs -- but the fact that McCain-Palin are playing on the same crowd dynamics that made such things acceptable for so long is nonetheless disturbing, whether they do it knowingly or not.


Daktari said...

I am incredibly disturbed by the race-baiting that is going on in the McCain campaign. However, if "terrorist" is a code-word for uppity black guy, do you really think that people that fall for that would consider voting for a black guy to begin with? Sure, maybe he's firing up the base, reigniting the Southern strategy, and all around being a fucking bastard, but maybe those teetering on the edge will see the hypocrisy of it and be driven into the camp of right-thinking Americans.

I am so sick of this sort of shit that I can barely stand the read the news anymore about McCain. If this man is elected president (a possibility that I see as less and less plausible), I will possess more hard feelings against him that I even felt about W.

God help us if he wins.

Daktari said...

Ok, In my first quick read of that Root article, I missed the part about the media showing some balls. Interesting, don't you think, that all of the topics we've been batting around are suddenly coalescing? If this isn't an historical election, I don't know what is.

I dare, and it does feel like a dare, to believe that there is more riding on this election than just changing the course of American politics. It is beginning to feel like a change in the course of American society. Thoughts?

J said...

I have to tell you, I don't really believe there's much riding on this election, frankly. As my many previous posts have shown, Dems and Reps have been pretty much the same on killing foreigners, and I doubt Obama will be much different. Oh, we might leave Iraq sooner -- a big accomplishment, to be sure -- but part of his rhetoric has been how it's time for Iraqis to stand on their own two feet, etc. -- a rhetoric of "blaming the victim." while I believe it'd certainly be better for us to get out of there, it'd also be good for us to give them proper reparations as under international law, and support real locally-based democracies rather than a strongman federal system (though it may be waaaay past too late for that), plus he wants to get us MORE involved in Afghanistan militarily. While I agree we've neglected Afghanistan, I don't know what we can do about it, and escalating our forces will likely worsen things. (As will leaving. Ah, a beautiful constellation of horrible choices.)

If you read my previous posts on Obama, you can see my rationale for all this. But I feel the election will not create a big change, other than a less embrassing head-of-state, and American president going back to telling soothing lies rather than horrifying lies, matching only by the horrifying truths that occasionally come out of the Bush white house.

What MIGHT cause dramatic change is this stock market thing. And while I give Obama a, say, 35-45% chance of doing the right thing as prez, and McCain only a 15-25% chance, I still think the odds are against either of them doing much. I mean, can the fact that Obama is not a fundamentally different kind of politics than normal, but rather just fundamentally not as exploding-in-your-face flailing cynical as McCain be established now? Or does he, Obama, still appear to be selling real change despite his uneven support for Israel and Palestine, American exceptionalism (see: Pakistan), support for "clean coal" and nuclear power, and lumping of Venezuela's Chavez (still serving a legitimate elected term) with Iran, etc?

No, I don't see the election as a pivot point at all. If there's a pivot, it will be from other sources, like this stock plunge, and I think Obama's only slightly more likely to do the right thing than McCain -- and I have zero confidence in a Democratic congress, especially as headed by Pelosi and Reid, to do the right thing in any case.

Daktari said...

Politics, sure, I'll agree with your bent. However, I think the real turning point might be the social aspects. We haven't heard much from the black community weighing in on how they thing an Obama presidency is going to change the social landscape(the Donna Brazile thing I posted perhaps being a notable exception). I'm wondering if they aren't self-regulating their support/speech/enthusiasm for fear of raising the ire of the racist white community. Of course, this is me speaking out of my ass and pontificating without any sense of the feelings/thoughts/objectives out there and making up a plausible scenario. But I do think we've come a long way in America, racially and gender-issue speaking. And this may be another big hump we get over.

Like you, I am damn concerned that the House and Senate are going to be so blue that it's gonna look like morgue on Capitol Hill. Lack of alternative opinions is a very bad thing in politics.

As for the economy, the more I read about this bailout, the more concerned I am that this is just business as usual with a very very very large price tag. By that I mean I'm beginning to wonder if the bailout wasn't the pinnnacle of the Bush administration flipping the American public the bird on its way out the door. Like the past 8 years were just building to this point. I'm sure they were wondering after lying to us about Iraq and getting us in this facing mess in the first place, that this wasn't planned. It does seem the logical and progressive outcome of a madman's train of thought. I'm reminded of when Bush first came in office and started with the whole "the economy is in the toilet" bs that served to put a nice little dip in the stock market, interest rates, and other major indicators of the economic soundness for about a year. Then came all the deregulation and support of the housing bubble that led straight to this door. Do I sound like a conspiracy theorist? Maybe I am. Something smelled fishy about this to me from the get-go.

Time for a beer then. You know, I'd think I'd spend my last two buck on an ice cold beer. With what has happened to my IRA (the only bright spot I had to cling to since I've come back to school and lost all my disposable income, health care, etc.), I may have to.

TGIF. =)

J said...

Hrm. If you read The Root a bit, you can get an idea of how some of the Black academic and artist/activist class see Obama. But let me give you my thoughts.

It's very exciting for many Black people, the prospect of the first black president. However, I think many black people fear (including me) that a black man in office will serve more as a self-congratulatory symbol than a real indication of receding racism. The fact that people aren't outwardly racist is good, but really just the top of the iceberg. I'll have to read your posts on institutionalized discrimination, but as a simple example, a number a studies from the Santa Fe Institute and others have shown that as little as a 2% bias in promotion can, mathematically, result in an "upper class" (management, academic deanship, what have you) that is something like 80% made up of the group benefitting from the bias against the other. This goes for gender, race, what have you. This is why institutionalized discrimination is the real key to the future, where people realize we all have to actively fight racism and redesign systems almost from the ground up not because someone is going around harboring horrible thoughts about women and black folks, but because a "it'll fix itself from here" or "now it's up to us/them to achieve for our/theirselves" continues a system designed to be discriminatory, things won't change without affirmative action (writ large, not a specific program) against institutionalized problems.

I read a great article some time ago saying that we should pratically stop celebrating "firsts". Firsts are symbolic, and reassuring -- but it's seconds, thirds, fourths, and fifths in an area that mean the change is real. Thurgood Marshall was replaced by Clarence Thomas -- who may be black but who is probably disliked and disagreed with by 89% of the black community. Sandra Day O'Connor was replaced by Alito. Only when a position passing commonly into minorities' hands is achieved is the change real.

Not to say, like I said, that the black people I know won't be thrilled if Obama wins. But the question is -- can another black man win in my lifetime? Can a woman? A black woman? Hispanic? Asian? Gay? Is Obama the first -- or is he the last? If he fucks up, will that set back all black politicians, or will the American people be wise enough to blame him alone?

Not to mention that Obama has in large part got to where he is in the prez campaign by avoiding racial politics. Black people make less on average the white people, have less access to education, to health care, receive lower quality health care when they do get it, and Obama has avoided all of this because he didn't want to be seen, as was said about Jesse Jackson, as running for president of "black America." Not to mention that JJ used his presidency to start a distinct and, for a time, powerful movement. Obama does not seem to me to be starting a movement that is larger than him. I don't think he's doing this cynically, I just think the approach he has doesn't lay the groundwork for a movement but only for a campaign.

We'll see though. I will hail an obama presidency. But I will be deeply suspicious of the concept that this represents a significant breakthrough. A breakthrough, let's say, would be 11% of Congress being African American -- including 11 senators.

Daktari said...

Or 51% of those Senators being women?

J said...

Most definitely.