Sliming Obama

From character assassination to the real thing

It is hardly unusual that John McCain, Sarah Palin and some rightwing interest groups are smearing Barak Obama during the fall campaign. When political campaigns avoid issue discussions and replace them with sound bites and identity politics, as American campaigns typically do, smear tactics become one tool among many similar tools in a campaign's box.

Yet, with Barack Hussein Obama, the merely despicable use of race and gender, class and ethnicity as political weapons have been augmented by the McCain campaign, which seemingly has taken to inciting the use of violence against their adversary (on which, see this and this).

As Jeffrey Feldman rightly points out

Since the start of the election campaign well over a year ago, voters have been subject to ongoing smear campaigns in emails and push polls accusing Sen. Obama of ties to and sympathies with domestic and foreign terrorist groups. No matter how many times these smear campaigns have been exposed, they continued. Now that John McCain and Sarah Palin have echoed these accusations — the idea that Sen. Obama is secretly a terrorist has the stamp of approval of a presidential campaign, but of a multi-term U.S. senator and a U.S. governor.

Feldman continues

One wonders at this point how the various agencies charged with the responsibility of protecting the Presidential candidates from violence will respond to this latest tactic from the McCain campaign. If, for example, a McCain supporter threatens the life of Sen. Obama by shouting 'Kill him!' at a Palin rally, should Sen. Obama's Secret Service contingent launch an investigation?

The Secret Service should, and seemingly will investigate this incident. Nevertheless, what does it say about America's political culture when a presidential campaign of a major party can use baseless slander to provoke some of its partisans to threaten the loyal opposition with violent acts, including assassination? What does it say about America's legal system that a campaign can do this without also fearing the legal consequences of their suggestive actions?

Update (10.9.2008)

Anthony DiMaggio sums up this issue thusly

The Democrats' attempt to appeal across party lines has clearly not been the preferred tactic of the Republican Party. Angry over their likely loss of power in the upcoming election, they have become increasingly desperate in their attacks on the Democrats and the legitimacy of the two party state. This is particularly disturbing at a time when it is becoming harder and harder to discern concrete or substantive differences in the economic policies of the two parties. In reality, Obama and Biden's vague references to "regulation" don't amount to a whole lot when they fail to follow them up with actual policy proposals. That these Democrats are demonized by Republicans as sub-human, dangerous, or terrorist is more a sign of the growing extremism of conservatives than of the moral weakness or treachery of the Democrats. The Democratic Party today may be morally bankrupt, spineless, and bland, but none of those are anywhere near as dangerous as the Republican Party's fundamentalist contempt for multi-party elections and bi-partisan politics [emphasis added].

Claiming that the Republican Party may be a disloyal opponent of America's democratic republic, such as Americans know it today and as I did here, amounts to this, as DiMaggio put it:

Increasingly, right-wing conservatives and Republican political leaders are issuing dire warnings to the American public that they — and only they — are the legitimate rulers of the United States and the world. This basic contempt for anything but one-party rule is manifested in a number of dire threats repeated by the party, with its members promising the end of Western civilization as we know it if they lose their dominant status in government.

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