Almost all political campaigns suffer from overheated rhetoric but there is something especially febrile and demented about the ongoing American presidential election, where the intensity of attacks on Barack Obama are notable not only for being over-the-top but also because they’ve been authorized and sanctioned by reputable and elite sources (i.e., the Republican party and its fellow travelers in the press). Not just on blogs but in publications like National Review and the Wall Street Journal as well the speeches of John McCain and Sarah Palin, one can read stories about Obama being a terrorist sympathizer, a covert Marxist, a man with shadowy ties to the enemies of America.
We’ve now reached the nadir with an email sent by the McCain campaign in Pennsylvania to Jewish voters which argued that Obama’s victory will lead to a second Holocaust. As Ron Todt of AP reports:
“Jewish Americans cannot afford to make the wrong decision on Tuesday, November 4th, 2008,” the e-mail reads. “Many of our ancestors ignored the warning signs in the 1930s and 1940s and made a tragic mistake. Let’s not make a similar one this year!”
A copy of the e-mail, provided by Democratic officials, says it was “Paid for by the Republican Federal Committee of PA – Victory 2008.”
It warns “Fellow Jewish Voters” of the danger of a second Holocaust due to the threats to Israel from its neighbors and touts Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s qualifications over those of Obama.
Of course, once the contents of the email reached the press, the McCain campaign disavowed it and fired the strategist. Still, it is remarkable that language so extreme should have made it out the door at all. And the contents of the email are no accident or the quirk of an over-eager staffer but perfectly of a piece with the overall tone and message of the McCain-Palin camp. While the point of the email is that Obama is too naive to stand up to the enemies of Israel, simply by bringing up the possibility of a second Holocaust the email shaded off into the territory of the far right, such as the website Kumah where Obama has been portrayed as a Nazi (as in the image above).
A comparison with the Obama campaign is in order. To be sure, Hitler tends to get evoked far too often in political debates and there have been all sorts of dim-witted leftists who have compared Bush to Hitler. But it’s fair to say this sort of Nazi-talk is confined to the fringes of the left, found at political rallies and on blogs. I can’t think of a comparable example of an email sent by the Obama camp that is as offensive as the email quoted above.
And or course once you go on popular right-wing blogs you find even crazier theories and rumours. Jon Swift has a good roundup of this chatter. If you put them together you get a truly scary image of the world: “During Obama’s dark, mysterious years at Columbia, he was involved in domestic terrorist bombings … Obama didn’t actually write Dreams of My Father. In fact, it was ghost-written by none other than Bill Ayers! … Michelle Obama attacks ‘American white racists’ in an interview with obscure online news site … Obama had a girlfriend that his wife found out about and forced her to move to the Caribbean … There is a tape of Michelle Obama with Louis Farrakhan talking about ‘whitey’ … Obama was not born in the United States and his birth certificate has been forged … Barack Obama had an underage, gay ‘affair’ with a pedophile … Obama had cocaine-fueled gay sex in the back of a limousine with a not-very-attractive disabled man with a criminal background … Obama was getting answers in the first debate through a clear plastic hearing aid in his ear.” (I have to say, the Obama created by the right-wing imagination is a considerably more intriguing and interesting figure than the rather staid, sensible, centrist Obama of the real world).
When the election is over I’d ask my conservative friends to search their souls as honestly as they can and ask, “what is it about right-wing politics that made people so willing to adopt such whacko ideas?”