Sunday, October 12, 2008

McCain & Palin Open Pandora’s Box

All week long we’ve been watching clips of Sarah Palin and John McCain rallies across the country and the raw sentiments from their red-meat crowds. The McCain camp admitted last weekend that the economy was killing their support, so they were going to shift focus and were taking this campaign to personal extremes against Barack Obama. It’s been ugly.

Palin (whose nickname ought to be Dick, as in Cheney) especially personifies this element, being the dyed-in-the-wool religiopolitical neo-con. She spares no moment to take the most partisan and most personal shots and deftly massages her devotees into a self-righteously indignant frenzy. They’re angry at the “socialist turn of the country” and blaming Obama (even though it’s neo-con President George W. Bush’s mess, and both Obama AND their candidate McCain voted for and supported the Wall Street Welfare State Act).

Despite the reality, a sizable amount of this FOX-indoctrinated, Limbaugh & Coulter-fed crowd are openly self-assured that Obama is Muslim, has terrorist tendencies and hates America. Lately we’ve get news clips of their recently-stirred, angry throng, yelling “terrorist,” “treason,” “kill him!” and “off with his head!” – even some racial epithets tossed blithely, whether anti-black or anti-Arab.

“They distort my pro- life positions and smear the reputations of my supporters. Why? Because I don't pander to them, because I don't ascribe to their failed philosophy that money is our message.” — Sen. John McCain, presidential candidate in 2000

With reports making the news, and not favorably for the McCain camp, the Senator apparently sensed things were getting out of hand and tried to reel it in at a McCain rally in Minneapolis. When he responded to one angry Town Hall questioner that he “admired” Sen. Obama’s accomplishments and said even if his opponent won, the country would be in good hands, Sen. John McCain was roundly booed at his own rally! No matter how much he tried to restrain them, his supporters would have none of it!

So now, the dilemma. John McCain has opened Pandora’s box in order to release his red-meat base to involve themselves and bring home the victory as they have in the previous two Bush presidential elections. Now out of the box, the red-meat folks won’t go back. Does McCain now risk alienating the one actively supportive wing of his base?

He’s losing some of his business wing with all the talk about “greedy CEO’s” and “maverick” talk about taking on Big Oil. He’s disenchanting his budget-hawk wing with his vote for the bailout and recently his announcement for government to buy back troubled home mortgages. Will McCain be willing to risk the one remaining base he’s able to stir?

After the last debate and the recent polling numbers, the McCain campaign came out openly stating they wanted to avoid the economy (today’s pressing issue), focus on Obama’s character and make the campaign about him. They wanted the Rovian echo chamber, and to give their base that voice and that forum to scream about their feelings. They’ve got what they wished.

The McCain/Palin crowds are quite exuberant about their anti-Obama, anti-Democrat invective, and feel they’re rightful in their rage of being disadvantaged conservatives! The candidates themselves have been fueling this bonfire of the vanity, particularly Sarah Palin. She’s exactly what McCain and the campaign operatives bargained for: the quintessential Dick Cheney-styled barking dog as foil to the above-the-fray would-be president. Even better, she’s wired in directly to evangelicals and is able to tap into the rage in the red-meat crowd. Unlike McCain himself (who many red-meat types are ambivalent about), Palin inspires this “off with the head,” red-meat element.

It’s this newly-created energy that is suddenly developing a life of its own. The crowds hang on every word of both McCain and Palin. Every utterance of “terrorist” draws cheers, and any mention of the name of either media, or any Democrats (specifically Obama) draw boos, and as McCain found out, any attempt to pull back and paint his opponent as human also draws boos! If these crowds begin hearing things out of McCain that they don’t want to hear, will they begin drowning him out with chants of “USA! USA! USA!”?

These red-meat, base crowds have rediscovered their voice, want to keep it and could end up turning on McCain on election day if he risks trying to close Pandora’s box now. In Republican America’s base, there is only victory, never admit defeat and never stop blasting your opponent. Weakness, admitting fallibility or compromise will never be forgotten or forgiven in red America.

So McCain suddenly finds himself in pause, one hand full of mud ready to sling, and on the other hand memory of his own words about running an honorable campaign and decrying personal-attack politics. The latter choice may be honorable, but it would likely cost him and his party their election.

Where now, Candidate McCain …?

“Political intolerance by any political party is neither a Judeo-Christian nor an American value. The political tactics of division and slander are not our values. They are corrupting influences on religion and politics, and those who practice them in the name of religion or in the name of the Republican Party or in the name of America shame our faith, our party and our country.” — Sen. John McCain, presidential candidate in 2000

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