The Racism of the McCain Campaign
Before I let loose, I just want to make clear that I don’t think John McCain is a racist. I just think he’s running a racist campaign and those two things are different. That being said, I can certainly understand how a person or group who was the target of this racism might not feel like differentiating between the two.
The McCain campaign has decided to live in the gutter by characterizing the differences between McCain and Obama as a difference between “us and them”. Everything that’s got McCain’s panties in a twist involves a race issue. Former beauty queen runner-up Sarah Palin has been whining on the campaign trail about how Obama is somebody who “doesn’t see America like us”. This is actually a true statement, but it masks vileness.
The statement is true because most black people don’t see America like white people. Their experiences of America, if not filled with personal examples of racism, are defined by hundreds upon hundreds of second-hand or anecdotal experiences of racism. If, by some fluke of circumstance, a black person in America doesn’t have a first-hand experience with overt racism, then one can be sure that such racism has been relayed to them by their mother, father, or grandparent.
Thus, the “us and them” dichotomy is meant to appeal to the Republicans’ racist supporters. It’s meant to create a division between Americans. It’s meant to cast black people as something less than American. Republicans can whine on and on about the liberal media and how it doesn’t give them a fair shake, but nobody has called them on this overt racist message. It’s not conservative versus liberal anymore. In this campaign, it’s white versus black.
McCain and his campaign try to appeal to their racist supporters in their complaints about Rev. Jeremiah Wright and the ridiculous criticism leveled at Georgia Congressman John Lewis for comparing McCain and George Wallace. Let’s be clear: this isn’t about the objective truth of any of the statements made by Wright or Lewis. This is about being able to understand why African-Americans might be inclined to feel somewhat bitter about their country sometimes. How would you feel about America if were black and you had been called “nigger” over and over again during your life, if you grew up during a time when your parents didn’t have the right to vote, if you had lost a job to a less-qualified, white applicant? What if that was your experience of America? Would you maybe be a little less inclined to raise the flag and tell everyone how great everything is all the time? You’d have some legitimate complaints, wouldn’t you? It’s not that they don’t love this country and aren’t proud of the advantages being American affords them; it’s that they’ve probably had more negative experiences than most of us and that it’s important to remind people that problems still exist.
Liberals believe that dissent is good for the country, that dissent is uniquely and importantly American, that by discussing dissent, we build a better country. Many conservatives seem to believe that dissent is un-American and they believe that any black person who would dare criticize America or Americans is unfit to be a citizen. The only opinion that’s valid is the white one. You’re not like “us” if you didn’t experience the privileged, white upbringing. You’re not like “us” if you dare to speak out about some of America’s negative characteristics. You’re not like “us” if you use your dissent to point out our country’s flaws so that we can build a better country.
That’s the essence of conservatism: status quo. Don’t complain. Don’t argue. Don’t rock the boat. It’s pretty damn awesome for us white folks in this country and any of you colored people who are complaining are just going to fuck that up, so shut up.
McCain supporters are “us” and Obama supporters are “them”. The entire McCain message has been about how Obama is different and scary. His associations are scary. Even the use of Obama’s association with William Ayers is racist because it’s being taken so out of context. The McCain campaign is using the Weather Underground, a 1960’s organization, in a 2008 context. In fact, the two things are not really comparable, but if you simply boil the characterization down to “terrorism”, the resulting message appeals to those for whom complexity itself is un-American.
It’s either “us or them”, “white or black”, Obama or McCain. It’s racism.