Friday, October 17, 2008

Cool We Can Believe In: The Political Artistry of Barack Obama

"Float like a butterfly/sting like a bee"
--Muhammad Ali


One of the things that I most admire and respect about Barack politically is his consummate ability to stay cool, focused, and disciplined no matter what the external circumstances happen to be. Like one of his major idols--Muhammad Ali--Obama has the poise, shrewdness, insight, and self confidence to realize that one's own vision and agenda (and thus behavior) is not dependent on what one's opposition says or does, but is established and carried out by one's own disciplined adherence to those ideas and values that one is independently motivated by. It's an important and fundamental political lesson that many progressives and radicals could and should learn from no matter what they may otherwise think of Obama or his politics...


October 16, 2008

Staying Cool and Irritating Your Opponent
New York Times

From Bill Clinton to John McCain, Senator Barack Obama has proved adept at driving very smart politicians out of their comfort zone, leading them to make comments or embrace tactics that end up backfiring.

Maybe it was one tsk-tsk too much, but at Wednesday night’s debate, something seemed to snap inside Senator McCain after listening to Senator Obama’s cool, high-minded lecture about inappropriate conduct at Republican rallies.

“What is important is making sure that we disagree without being disagreeable,” the 47-year-old freshman Democrat told the 72-year-old four-term Republican. “What we can’t do, I think, is try to characterize each other as bad people.”

Mr. McCain, who had appeared composed and confident up to that point, responded by veering into heated denouncements of Mr. Obama’s loose ties to Bill Ayers, the former Weather Underground leader, and the community organizing group Acorn, which has been accused of voter fraud. Mr. McCain did not explain what Acorn was, probably confusing many viewers, and he never regained control of the debate.

“All of these things need to be examined,” Mr. McCain said about Mr. Ayers and Acorn.

To which Mr. Obama delivered a final hit that reflected that many Americans are more concerned with the economy than with Bill Ayers.

“I think the fact that this has become such an important part of your campaign, Senator McCain, says more about your campaign than it says about me,” Mr. Obama said.

While Mr. Obama is known for giving stirring speeches before stadium-sized crowds, less recognized is his shrewd oratory against his opponents. He has been able to turn a relative weakness — his inexperience in government and politics — into a strength: Messrs. Clinton and McCain and their aides have held Mr. Obama in low regard at times, seeing him as an untested upstart, and so his easy-going manner and ongoing success have unsettled them that much more.

“Never let ‘em see you sweat: Barack Obama has mastered that concept, and it has thrown off political opponents for the past 20 months,” said William O’Reilly, a Republican political consultant in New York. “It prevented John McCain from knowing when he was scoring points last night. McCain needs to trust his instincts. Senator Obama will never look wounded, but that doesn’t mean he’s invulnerable.”

The Clintons came to believe that during the Democratic nomination fight, their advisers say, but it did not stop Mr. Clinton from lapsing into some undisciplined behavior.

Mr. Obama spent 2007 and the winter of 2008 getting under Mr. Clinton’s skin, prompting any number of missteps by a former president who is regarded as a master of politics. Mr. Obama repeated so often that he had been against the Iraq war from the start — unlike Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, his rival for the Democratic nomination — that Mr. Clinton finally let loose in New Hampshire with a rant that the Clinton campaign had not authorized, about how Mr. Obama’s claims were a “fairy tale.”

Many Democrats were disgusted with the remark, including many black voters who supported Mr. Clinton but were offended that he would challenge the narrative of one of their own. Soon after, Mr. Clinton started attacking Mr. Obama in South Carolina — again, to the Clinton camp’s dismay. Mr. Clinton said it was “understandable” that people would vote along race and gender lines — a comment that some voters said was condescending — and he said that Mr. Obama had “put out a hit job on me” once.

After Mr. Obama won the South Carolina primary in a landslide, Mr. Clinton compared the victory to Jesse Jackson’s wins there in 1984 and 1988 — the last straw for some Democrats and black voters, who said Mr. Clinton was belittling Mr. Obama in a patently racial context. Mr. Clinton has adamantly denied doing so.

The fact is, Mr. Obama probably won points with voters by keeping his cool throughout the various Clinton episodes. And there is no question that he goaded Mr. Clinton and his wife’s campaign into making some questionable tactical moves, such as going to war with some reporters and media outlets. At times it seemed like Mrs. Clinton was the only one keeping her cool in her camp.

Had Mrs. Clinton won the nomination, she planned to run against Mr. McCain with a similar strategy that Mr. Obama has pursued: Portraying the Republican nominee as a like-minded handmaiden to President Bush. But one could easily suggest that Mr. Obama is getting under Mr. McCain’s skin with this argument more than Mrs. Clinton would have; Mr. McCain respects Mrs. Clinton quite a bit, while he could barely bring himself to look Mr. Obama in the eyes or treat him with any deference in their first two debates.

Mr. Obama’s pokes, indeed, have had the effect of drawing patronizing comments from Mr. McCain. In May, for instance, Mr. Obama taunted Mr. McCain for his lack of support on a veterans’ benefit bill in the Senate, causing Mr. McCain to invoke his and others’ military service compared to Mr. Obama’s — something the Republican candidate had indicated he would not do.

“I will not accept from Senator Obama, who did not feel it was his responsibility to serve our country in uniform, any lectures on my regard for those who did,” Mr. McCain said in a statement.

On Wednesday night, Mr. McCain also “categorically” defended the people at his rallies after Mr. Obama mentioned the nasty comments by a few. Mr. McCain said that people who have used harsh language -- one news report said one person yelled “kill him,” referring to Mr. Obama, at a Florida rally -- were among the “fringe people” who come to any huge rally. Then he turned to Mr. Ayers and Acorn and Mr. Obama’s work was done.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

The Psychosis That Rules America, Part V: How Racist Republican Demagogues Are Endangering Barack Obama's Life


As psychotically racist as this ad is the vicious truth is that we really haven't seen anything yet. I put absolutely nothing past the millions of venal racists in this country and I fully expect as do many others that it's going to get far worse before this presidential race is done. So don't be surprised or "shocked" if there is an actual physical attack on Obama or his family before this year is over. The stark reality is that the poisonous atmosphere that McCain, Palin, and the criminal Republican Party machine have deliberately cultivated and is stoking with its hate-filled venom daily is in fact putting Barack's life in DANGER. If you don't believe that, then you have no realistic idea of what country we're actually living in or how incredibly dangerous and full of bile it actually is. We had all better hope that Obama makes it to the finish line with his life and/or his family's life intact. This is no joke--sick or otherwise. I'm deadly serious about that. Stay tuned...


GOP mailing depicts Obama on food stamp
Thursday, October 16, 2008
The Press-Enterprise

The latest newsletter by an Inland Republican women's group depicts Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama surrounded by a watermelon, ribs and a bucket of fried chicken, prompting outrage in political circles.

The October newsletter by the Chaffey Community Republican Women, Federated says if Obama is elected his image will appear on food stamps -- instead of dollar bills like other presidents. The statement is followed by an illustration of "Obama Bucks" -- a phony $10 bill featuring Obama's face on a donkey's body, labeled "United States Food Stamps."

An Inland Republican women’s group sent out a newsletter showing this fake $10 “food stamp” with Barack Obama’s face on it.

The GOP newsletter, which was sent to about 200 members and associates of the group by e-mail and regular mail last week, is drawing harsh criticism from members of the political group, elected leaders, party officials and others as racist.

The group's president, Diane Fedele, said she plans to send an apology letter to her members and to apologize at the club's meeting next week. She said she simply wanted to deride a comment Obama made over the summer about how as an African-American he "doesn't look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills."

"It was strictly an attempt to point out the outrageousness of his statement. I really don't want to go into it any further," Fedele said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "I absolutely apologize to anyone who was offended. That clearly wasn't my attempt."

Fedele said she got the illustration in a number of chain e-mails and decided to reprint it for her members in the Trumpeter newsletter because she was offended that Obama would draw attention to his own race. She declined to say who sent her the e-mails with the illustration.

She said she doesn't think in racist terms, pointing out she once supported Republican Alan Keyes, an African-American who previously ran for president.

"I didn't see it the way that it's being taken. I never connected," she said. "It was just food to me. It didn't mean anything else."

She said she also wasn't trying to make a statement linking Obama and food stamps, although her introductory text to the illustration connects the two: "Obama talks about all those presidents that got their names on bills. If elected, what bill would he be on????? Food Stamps, what else!"

Club Member Cries

Sheila Raines, an African-American member of the club, was the first person to complain to Fedele about the newsletter. Raines, of San Bernardino, said she has worked hard to try to convince other minorities to join the Republican Party and now she feels betrayed.

"This is what keeps African-Americans from joining the Republican Party," she said. "I'm really hurt. I cried for 45 minutes."

The Obama campaign declined to comment. It's the campaign's policy to not address such attacks, said Gabriel Sanchez, a California spokesman for the campaign.

The newsletter prompted a rebuke from another African-American member of the organization, which is well recognized in the community for its philanthropy and efforts to register and turn out voters in the Rancho Cucamonga and Upland areas.

Acquanetta Warren, a Fontana councilwoman and member of the women's group, said the item is rude and requires a public apology.

"When I opened that up and saw it, I said, 'Why did they do this? It doesn't even reflect our principles and values,' " said Warren, who served as a Republican delegate to the national convention in September and is a regional vice chairwoman for the California Republican Party. "I know a lot of the ladies in that club and they're fantastic. They're volunteers. They really care -- some of them go to my church."

Warren forwarded an electronic version of the newsletter to the California Republican Party headquarters, where officials also were outraged Wednesday and denounced the illustration.

Hector Barajas, the party's press secretary, said the party chairman likely will have a conversation with Fedele, and Barajas will attend the statewide California Federation of Republican Women conference this weekend in Los Angeles to handle any news media there to cover the controversy.

Obama in Turban

The newsletter is not the first such episode Barajas has had to respond to this week. The Sacramento Bee on Wednesday posted an image it said was captured from the Sacramento County GOP Web site that showed Obama in a turban next to Osama bin Laden.

It said: "The difference between Osama and Obama is just a little B.S." The site also encouraged members to "Waterboard Barack Obama," a reference to a torture technique. The Sacramento County party took down the material Tuesday after being criticized.

Mark Kirk, a spokesman for the San Bernardino County GOP chairman, said he expects Chairman Gary Ovitt to also have a talk with Fedele and to attend the group's local meeting next week to discuss the issue with members, although the county GOP has no formal oversight role over the club. Kirk said these kinds of depictions hurt the party's ongoing efforts to reach out to minorities.

"It's very damaging and we're going to take steps to correct this," Kirk said. "Unfortunately, I don't know what you do to correct ignorance like this, but we will do what we can."

Assemblyman Bill Emmerson, R-Redlands, and state Sen. Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga, both criticized the illustration as inappropriate and irresponsible.

Dutton pointed out that his wife, a member of the club, is of Mexican heritage and has battled criticism that the Republican Party is not the party for minorities. The club's newsletter undercuts efforts to rise above racism, he said.

"Bias and racial comments and even suggestions are frankly what weakens us as a people. I think we as Americans need to rise above that," he said.

Emmerson said he was extremely offended and sickened by the newsletter.

Barbara O'Connor, director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and the Media at Cal State Sacramento, said it's imperative that people speak out about these kinds of depictions no matter how small the organization. She praised Raines for doing so.

"It's a statement about what is civil discourse and can you get away with doing something under an organizational banner," she said. "You have to cut it out at the root and the root is often small organizations that are local and they then become larger."

Reach Michelle DeArmond at 951-368-9441 or

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Arabs Are Decent Family Men Too

By Rayfield A. Waller

I like to think I’m a decent African-American family man just like Barack Obama. So what I saw on October 10 was as breathtaking to me as two blows to the stomach.

The first blow took my breath away: a supporter of Republican presidential candidate John McCain at a McCain rally in Lakeville, Minnesota declared he was afraid to raise his child in an America with Barack Obama as president. “I’m concerned about someone who, you know, cohorts with domestic terrorists such as Ayers…” the gentleman asserted. Though McCain assured the supporter that his Democratic opponent is “a decent person, and a person that you do not have to be scared as president of the United States”, it was clear a drum beat of negative smear ads by the McCain campaign these past two weeks had achieved the desired effect of demonizing Obama as a ‘terrorist’. McCain has aired half dozen attack ads featuring shadowy images of Obama several shades darker than he actually is, and featuring claims deliberately distorting history to link Obama to Chicago professor, William Ayers, once a member of the radical group, The Weather Underground.

The second blow took what little breath was left in me, filling me with an even deeper disgust than the simple insult of seeing a Black candidate smeared by association. The second blow demonstrated that all Americans need to denounce a deep, subtly and grossly anti-Arab, anti-Muslim atmosphere in America. Proof of just how poisonous McCain’s negative, racist campaign tactics are, came only minutes later when another supporter, a woman this time, stood up in the same crowd to declare, “I can’t trust Obama; I have read about him, and he’s an Arab.” McCain took back the microphone, reassuring her, saying, “No Ma’am. He’s a decent family man and citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues…”

Now put aside for a moment the reality that federal charges against William Ayers were dropped in the 1970’s due to prosecutorial misconduct and that in fact he is currently a respected University Professor in Chicago. Put aside also the fact that former members of The Weather Underground are contributing, passionately engaged citizens of our democracy. Put aside the fact that not all Republicans are racist, that many feel their party is out of control (I have Republican friends who are dismayed by McCain’s smear tactics). Put aside the fact that Obama was only eight years old when the political activities of The Weather Underground were being widely cheered by many Americans on the left, and put aside the reality that the single proven point of contact between Obama and Ayers was that they served together on a Republican dominated educational committee in Chicago years ago, and that Ayers gave a fundraiser for Obama’ senate campaign; his democratic right as a citizen of the United States. Finally, put aside the fact that McCain is hypocritically borrowing smear tactics from earlier Republican sleaze masters, Lee Atwater and Karl Rove, even though the same sleazy tactics were used against McCain by Bush in the 2000 election. Even though McCain now hypocritically apologizes for his supporters’ growing mob mentality while his own ads invite outrages occurring at his rallies such as members of crowds calling for Obama to be ‘killed’, and ‘bombed’, put this aside.

Put all those things aside, any of which can serve to condemn McCain’s mendacity, and we are still left with the worst offense of all; because all the other bad behavior by politicians and the media have been part and parcel of American politics, unfortunately, since the Nixon years. The greatest offense is a disturbingly new element in America—the element of dehumanizing Arabic-American and Muslim-American citizens, and workers, visitors, and guests. All of these have human rights under our constitution (yes, even undocumented workers do; there is no such thing as an ‘illegal alien’, America has undocumented workers, many of whom, the economic record shows, contribute as much as or more to the economy than we so-called ‘native’ citizens).

The greatest offense is that without any apology from McCain for his incredibly insensitive ‘defense’ of Obama, for the second time during this campaign Obama has been called ‘an Arab’, and this has again been treated as a negative thing to be. So far, McCain hasn’t apologized for the implicit racism of suggesting that to be a “decent Family man’ is not to be an Arab. For the second time during this campaign few seem to notice that the greatest slur here is not to my people, African Americans, but to one of America’s fastest growing ethnic and religious communities. If some Americans associate ‘domestic terrorism’ with people of Arabic descent, then McCain’s smear machine fans such embers of hate.

In my opinion, McCain is not through apologizing until he apologizes to Arab men, who, if he simply looked around himself at the America he proposes to lead, he would see are decent family men too. To absently or thoughtlessly suggest otherwise exposes the cultural and ethical bankruptcy at the center of McCain’s now desperate campaign.

Rayfield Waller is on the adjunct Faculty of Wayne State University’s Department of Africana Studies in Detroit, Michigan and is a freelance journalist. More of his journalism can be found at, and at

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Psychosis That Rules America, Part IV: The Racist Insanity of the John McCain/Sarah Palin Presidential Campaign


As I and many others have been saying since Day One of these presidential campaigns the deeply embedded psychotic tradition of virulent racism in American society and politics has come home to roost in McCain and Palin's nightmarish traveling circus of hatred and demagogic propaganda and lies about Obama. It was always inevitable that far too many white politicians on both the Republican and Democratic sides would openly attempt to racebait, defame, slander. and smear Obama. It was also crystal clear from the day Barack entered the race for the Presidency that he would be relentlessly subjected to the pervasive pathological fears, hatreds, and ignorance of millions of white, Latino, and Asian Americans who simply despise, envy, and fear African Americans in general and the very idea of a black president in particular. To say that our very worst fears about American racism have been confirmed in the heinous events of the past two days would be a gross understatement. What the vicious reality of these chilling lynch mob political rallies of McCain and Palin also confirm (as if we didn't know already!) is that the only sane and decent human being running for President in 2008 is Barack Obama, who has continued to run his own campaign with grace, compassion, intelligence, and dignity. It's the sort of elegant humanity that John 'the Pimp' McCain and his brazen political whore and attack dog Sarah Palin wouldn't know anything about even if their lives depended on it...


October 12, 2008


The Terrorist Barack Hussein Obama

New York Times

IF you think way back to the start of this marathon campaign, back when it seemed preposterous that any black man could be a serious presidential contender, then you remember the biggest fear about Barack Obama: a crazy person might take a shot at him.

Some voters told reporters that they didn’t want Obama to run, let alone win, should his very presence unleash the demons who have stalked America from Lincoln to King. After consultation with Congress, Michael Chertoff, the homeland security secretary, gave Obama a Secret Service detail earlier than any presidential candidate in our history — in May 2007, some eight months before the first Democratic primaries.

“I’ve got the best protection in the world, so stop worrying,” Obama reassured his supporters. Eventually the country got conditioned to his appearing in large arenas without incident (though I confess that the first loud burst of fireworks at the end of his convention stadium speech gave me a start). In America, nothing does succeed like success. The fear receded.

Until now. At McCain-Palin rallies, the raucous and insistent cries of “Treason!” and “Terrorist!” and “Kill him!” and “Off with his head!” as well as the uninhibited slinging of racial epithets, are actually something new in a campaign that has seen almost every conceivable twist. They are alarms. Doing nothing is not an option.

All’s fair in politics. John McCain and Sarah Palin have every right to bring up William Ayers, even if his connection to Obama is minor, even if Ayers’s Weather Underground history dates back to Obama’s childhood, even if establishment Republicans and Democrats alike have collaborated with the present-day Ayers in educational reform. But it’s not just the old Joe McCarthyesque guilt-by-association game, however spurious, that’s going on here. Don’t for an instant believe the many mindlessly “even-handed” journalists who keep saying that the McCain campaign’s use of Ayers is the moral or political equivalent of the Obama campaign’s hammering on Charles Keating.

What makes them different, and what has pumped up the Weimar-like rage at McCain-Palin rallies, is the violent escalation in rhetoric, especially (though not exclusively) by Palin. Obama “launched his political career in the living room of a domestic terrorist.” He is “palling around with terrorists” (note the plural noun). Obama is “not a man who sees America the way you and I see America.” Wielding a wildly out-of-context Obama quote, Palin slurs him as an enemy of American troops.

By the time McCain asks the crowd “Who is the real Barack Obama?” it’s no surprise that someone cries out “Terrorist!” The rhetorical conflation of Obama with terrorism is complete. It is stoked further by the repeated invocation of Obama’s middle name by surrogates introducing McCain and Palin at these rallies. This sleight of hand at once synchronizes with the poisonous Obama-is-a-Muslim e-mail blasts and shifts the brand of terrorism from Ayers’s Vietnam-era variety to the radical Islamic threats of today.

That’s a far cry from simply accusing Obama of being a guilty-by-association radical leftist. Obama is being branded as a potential killer and an accessory to past attempts at murder. “Barack Obama’s friend tried to kill my family” was how a McCain press release last week packaged the remembrance of a Weather Underground incident from 1970 — when Obama was 8.

We all know what punishment fits the crime of murder, or even potential murder, if the security of post-9/11 America is at stake. We all know how self-appointed “patriotic” martyrs always justify taking the law into their own hands.

Obama can hardly be held accountable for Ayers’s behavior 40 years ago, but at least McCain and Palin can try to take some responsibility for the behavior of their own supporters in 2008. What’s troubling here is not only the candidates’ loose inflammatory talk but also their refusal to step in promptly and strongly when someone responds to it with bloodthirsty threats in a crowded arena. Joe Biden had it exactly right when he expressed concern last week that “a leading American politician who might be vice president of the United States would not just stop midsentence and turn and condemn that.” To stay silent is to pour gas on the fires.

It wasn’t always thus with McCain. In February he loudly disassociated himself from a speaker who brayed “Barack Hussein Obama” when introducing him at a rally in Ohio. Now McCain either backpedals with tardy, pro forma expressions of respect for his opponent or lets second-tier campaign underlings release boilerplate disavowals after ugly incidents like the chilling Jim Crow-era flashback last week when a Florida sheriff ranted about “Barack Hussein Obama” at a Palin rally while in full uniform.

From the start, there have always been two separate but equal questions about race in this election. Is there still enough racism in America to prevent a black man from being elected president no matter what? And, will Republicans play the race card? The jury is out on the first question until Nov. 4. But we now have the unambiguous answer to the second: Yes.

McCain, who is no racist, turned to this desperate strategy only as Obama started to pull ahead. The tone was set at the Republican convention, with Rudy Giuliani’s mocking dismissal of Obama as an “only in America” affirmative-action baby. We also learned then that the McCain campaign had recruited as a Palin handler none other than Tucker Eskew, the South Carolina consultant who had worked for George W. Bush in the notorious 2000 G.O.P. primary battle where the McCains and their adopted Bangladeshi daughter were slimed by vicious racist rumors.

No less disconcerting was a still-unexplained passage of Palin’s convention speech: Her use of an unattributed quote praising small-town America (as opposed to, say, Chicago and its community organizers) from Westbrook Pegler, the mid-century Hearst columnist famous for his anti-Semitism, racism and violent rhetorical excess. After an assassin tried to kill F.D.R. at a Florida rally and murdered Chicago’s mayor instead in 1933, Pegler wrote that it was “regrettable that Giuseppe Zangara shot the wrong man.” In the ’60s, Pegler had a wish for Bobby Kennedy: “Some white patriot of the Southern tier will spatter his spoonful of brains in public premises before the snow falls.”

This is the writer who found his way into a speech by a potential vice president at a national political convention. It’s astonishing there’s been no demand for a public accounting from the McCain campaign. Imagine if Obama had quoted a Black Panther or Louis Farrakhan — or William Ayers — in Denver.

The operatives who would have Palin quote Pegler have been at it ever since. A key indicator came two weeks after the convention, when the McCain campaign ran its first ad tying Obama to the mortgage giant Fannie Mae. Rather than make its case by using a legitimate link between Fannie and Obama (or other Democratic leaders), the McCain forces chose a former Fannie executive who had no real tie to Obama or his campaign but did have a black face that could dominate the ad’s visuals.

There are no black faces high in the McCain hierarchy to object to these tactics. There hasn’t been a single black Republican governor, senator or House member in six years. This is a campaign where Palin can repeatedly declare that Alaska is “a microcosm of America” without anyone even wondering how that might be so for a state whose tiny black and Hispanic populations are each roughly one-third the national average. There are indeed so few people of color at McCain events that a black senior writer from The Tallahassee Democrat was mistakenly ejected by the Secret Service from a campaign rally in Panama City in August, even though he was standing with other reporters and showed his credentials. His only apparent infraction was to look glaringly out of place.

Could the old racial politics still be determinative? I’ve long been skeptical of the incessant press prognostications (and liberal panic) that this election will be decided by racist white men in the Rust Belt. Now even the dimmest bloviators have figured out that Americans are riveted by the color green, not black — as in money, not energy. Voters are looking for a leader who might help rescue them, not a reckless gambler whose lurching responses to the economic meltdown (a campaign “suspension,” a mortgage-buyout stunt that changes daily) are as unhinged as his wanderings around the debate stage.

To see how fast the tide is moving, just look at North Carolina. On July 4 this year — the day that the godfather of modern G.O.P. racial politics, Jesse Helms, died — The Charlotte Observer reported that strategists of both parties agreed Obama’s chances to win the state fell “between slim and none.” Today, as Charlotte reels from the implosion of Wachovia, the McCain-Obama race is a dead heat in North Carolina and Helms’s Republican successor in the Senate, Elizabeth Dole, is looking like a goner.

But we’re not at Election Day yet, and if voters are to have their final say, both America and Obama have to get there safely. The McCain campaign has crossed the line between tough negative campaigning and inciting vigilantism, and each day the mob howls louder. The onus is on the man who says he puts his country first to call off the dogs, pit bulls and otherwise.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

Panic attacks: Voters unload at GOP rallies
By: Jonathan Martin
October 10, 2008

The unmistakable momentum behind Barack Obama's campaign, combined with worry that John McCain is not doing enough to stop it, is ratcheting up fears and frustrations among conservatives.

And nowhere is this emotion on plainer display than at Republican rallies, where voters this week have shouted out insults at the mention of Obama, pleaded with McCain to get more aggressive with the Democrat and generally demonstrated the sort of visceral anger and unease that reflects a party on the precipice of panic.

The calendar is closing and the polls, at least right now, are not.

With McCain passing up the opportunity to level any tough personal shots in his first two debates and the very real prospect of an Obama presidency setting in, the sort of hard-core partisan activists who turn out for campaign events are venting in unusually personal terms.

"Terrorist!” one man screamed Monday at a New Mexico rally after McCain voiced the campaign’s new rhetorical staple aimed at raising doubts about the Illinois senator: “Who is the real Barack Obama?”

"He's a damn liar!” yelled a woman Wednesday in Pennsylvania. "Get him. He's bad for our country."

At both stops, there were cries of, “Nobama,” picking up on a phrase that has appeared on yard signs, T-shirts and bumper stickers.

And Thursday, at a campaign town hall in Wisconsin, one Republican brought the crowd to its feet when he used his turn at the microphone to offer a soliloquy so impassioned it made the network news and earned extended play on Rush Limbaugh’s program.

“I’m mad; I’m really mad!” the voter bellowed. “And what’s going to surprise ya, is it’s not the economy — it’s the socialists taking over our country.”

After the crowd settled down he was back at it. “When you have an Obama, Pelosi and the rest of the hooligans up there gonna run this country, we gotta have our head examined!”

Such contempt for Democrats is, of course, nothing new from conservative activists. But in 2000 and 2004, the Republican rank and file was more apt to ridicule Gore as a stiff fabulist or Kerry as an effete weather vane of a politician.

“Flip-flop, flip-flop,” went the cry at Republican rallies four years ago, often with footwear to match the chant.

Now, though, the emotion on display is unadulterated anger rather than mocking.

Activists outside rallies openly talk about Obama as a terrorist, citing his name and purported ties to Islam in the fashion of the viral e-mails that have rocketed around the Internet for over a year now.

Some of this activity is finding its way into the events, too.

On Thursday, as one man in the audience asked a question about Obama’s associations, the crowd erupted in name-calling.

"Obama Osama!" one woman called out.

And twice this week, local officials have warmed up the crowd by railing against “Barack Hussein Obama.”

Both times, McCain’s campaign has issued statements disavowing the use of the Democrat’s full name.
A McCain aide said they tell individuals speaking before every event not to do so. “Sometimes people just do what they want,” explained the aide.

The raw emotions worry some in the party who believe the broader swath of swing voters are far more focused on their dwindling retirement accounts than on Obama’s background and associations and will be turned off by footage of the McCain events.

John Weaver, McCain’s former top strategist, said top Republicans have a responsibility to temper this behavior.

“People need to understand, for moral reasons and the protection of our civil society, the differences with Sen. Obama are ideological, based on clear differences on policy and a lack of experience compared to Sen. McCain,” Weaver said. “And from a purely practical political vantage point, please find me a swing voter, an undecided independent, or a torn female voter that finds an angry mob mentality attractive.”

“Sen. Obama is a classic liberal with an outdated economic agenda. We should take that agenda on in a robust manner. As a party we should not and must not stand by as the small amount of haters in our society question whether he is as American as the rest of us. Shame on them and shame on us if we allow this to take hold.”

But, if it were up to them, such hard-edged tactics are clearly what many in the party base would like to use against Obama.

That McCain has so far seemed reluctant to do so has frustrated Republicans.

“It's time that you two are representing us, and we are mad,” reiterated the boisterous Republican at McCain’s town hall in Wisconsin Thursday. “So go get 'em!”

"I am begging you, sir, I am begging you — take it to him," pleaded James T. Harris, a local talk radio host at the same event, earning an extended standing ovation.

“Yosemite Sam is having the law laid down to him today in Waukesha, Wis.,” quipped Limbaugh on his show Thursday, referring to the GOP nominee. “This guy, this audience member, is exactly right,” the conservative talk show host said of the first individual.

“You are running for president. You have a right to defend this country. You have a responsibility to defend this country and not just fulfill some dream you had eight years ago running for president against Bush. It's time to start naming names and explain what's actually going on, because, Sen. McCain, the people of this country are dead scared about what we face if you lose.”

John J. Pitney Jr., a political science professor at California’s Claremont McKenna College and former Republican operative, suggested core Republicans were acting out their longstanding frustrations with their self-proclaimed maverick nominee.

“McCain has always frustrated the Republican base,” Pitney said. “In this campaign, he has alternated between partisan attacks and calls for bipartisan cooperation. It’s nice that he thinks he can round up congressional votes the way a border collie rounds up sheep. But you can’t be a border collie and a pit bull at the same time. The crowds want a pit bull.”

There is also the belief that taking out Obama is the only way to win.

“They know that when McCain has taken off the Senate mantle and put the stick to Obama (celebrity ad, as a case in point), we get movement in the polls,” said Rick Wilson, a GOP consultant not working on the presidential race. “They want McCain to call out Obama — on the Fannie/Freddie mess, on Wright, on Ayers, on guns, on [the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now] — because they know that if McCain says it, it penetrates the MSM filter. ... Only McCain and Palin can really drive that message.”

The two have begun to get more aggressive on many of these topics, with both discussing Ayers in multiple venues Thursday. The RNC is also going up for the first time with an ad featuring the former domestic terrorist.

It was enough to stir hope that McCain may stay on the offensive, even in Limbaugh, who has often criticized the Arizona senator for working with Democrats more than attacking them. The radio host praised his sometimes-nemesis for singling out Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) as partly responsible for the credit crisis.

“McCain/Palin fired back today in Waukesha, and 15 years of frustration is coming out joyously in the voices of GOP supporters at these rallies,” Limbaugh wrote in an e-mail, arguing that Republicans were fed up with having been portrayed as the bogeyman for myriad issues since the Clinton years.

But to the exasperation of many in the party, Obama’s pastor, the most damning of all his associations, remains off-limits, at the express desire of McCain. Palin ignored Wright and focused on Ayers when she was asked about the two in an interview Thursday with conservative talk show host Laura Ingraham. And McCain focused on Ayers only when he was asked an open-ended question at the town hall about Obama's “associations.”

“It is a shame McCain took Wright off the table,” lamented one prominent Republican operative not working on the race. “He is a legitimate issue, and we may look back and realize he was the issue that could have changed the race.”

For now, though, party members don't seem to be looking back with regret as much as fearing what lies ahead.

“McCain is behind in the polls, and the Republicans have no chance of regaining control of Congress,” Pitney noted. “Republicans are facing the prospect of unified Democratic control of the government for the first time since the first two Clinton years. And even then, Clinton’s agenda had moderate elements (e.g., [the North American Free Trade Agreement] and deficit reduction). With Obama, [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid and [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi in power, Republicans worry about a hard push for a hard-left agenda.”

Amie Parnes contributed to this story.

© 2008 Capitol News Company, LLC

McCain calls comments by Georgia Democrat 'shocking'

Story Highlights

Rep. John Lewis compares recent McCain rallies to segregationist ex-governor
Lewis: George Wallace "created the climate ... that encouraged vicious attacks"
McCain: Rep. Lewis' comments are "shocking and beyond the pale"
McCain now calls on the Obama campaign to repudiate the remarks

From Rebecca Sinderbrand
CNN Associate Political Editor

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. John McCain called a statement by a Georgia congressman Saturday, which compared the feeling at recent Republican rallies to those of segregationist George Wallace, "a brazen and baseless attack."

Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, who has been praised by McCain in the past, issued his statement after several days of headline-grabbing anger aimed at Democratic nominee Barack Obama from some attendees at campaign rallies of McCain and running mate Gov. Sarah Palin.

"What I am seeing reminds me too much of another destructive period in American history. Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin are sowing the seeds of hatred and division, and there is no need for this hostility in our political discourse," Lewis said in a statement.

"George Wallace never threw a bomb. He never fired a gun, but he created the climate and the conditions that encouraged vicious attacks against innocent Americans who were simply trying to exercise their constitutional rights. Because of this atmosphere of hate, four little girls were killed on Sunday morning when a church was bombed in Birmingham, Alabama," wrote the Democrat. Watch more on the rising rage at McCain-Palin rallies »

McCain has written about Lewis, praising his actions in Selma, Alabama, during the civil rights movement. The Republican nominee even said during a summer faith forum that Lewis was one of three men he would turn to for counsel as president.

But the Arizona senator blasted Lewis' remarks, and called on Obama to repudiate them.

"Congressman John Lewis' comments represent a character attack against Gov. Sarah Palin and me that is shocking and beyond the pale," he said in a Saturday afternoon statement released by his campaign.

"The notion that legitimate criticism of Sen. Obama's record and positions could be compared to Gov. George Wallace, his segregationist policies and the violence he provoked is unacceptable and has no place in this campaign. I am saddened that John Lewis, a man I've always admired, would make such a brazen and baseless attack on my character and the character of the thousands of hardworking Americans who come to our events to cheer for the kind of reform that will put America on the right track. Watch more on the rising rage at McCain-Palin rallies »

"I call on Sen. Obama to immediately and personally repudiate these outrageous and divisive comments that are so clearly designed to shut down debate 24 days before the election. Our country must return to the important debate about the path forward for America."

Shortly after, Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton released a statement on the Lewis comments.

"Sen. Obama does not believe that John McCain or his policy criticism is in any way comparable to George Wallace or his segregationist policies," Burton said. "But John Lewis was right to condemn some of the hateful rhetoric that John McCain himself personally rebuked just last night, as well as the baseless and profoundly irresponsible charges from his own running mate that the Democratic nominee for president of the United States 'pals around with terrorists.' "
CNN political producer Ed Hornick contributed to this report.

All About John Lewis • John McCain • George Wallace • Sarah Palin

October 11, 2008

McCain Draws Line on Attacks as Crowds Cry ‘Fight Back’

New York Times

LAKEVILLE, Minn. — After a week of trying to portray Senator Barack Obama as a friend of terrorists who would drive the country into bankruptcy, Senator John McCain abruptly changed his tone on Friday and told voters at a town-hall-style meeting that Mr. Obama was “a decent person” and a “family man” and suggested that he would be an acceptable president should he win the White House.

But moments later, Mr. McCain, the Republican nominee, renewed his attacks on Mr. Obama for his association with the 1960s radical William Ayers and told the crowd, “Mr. Obama’s political career was launched in Mr. Ayers’ living room.”

The dizzying statements came on a confused day when Mr. McCain’s campaign pounded Mr. Obama as a “liar” in an incendiary television commercial about Mr. Ayers and as Mr. McCain abruptly announced another economic policy proposal, this time a plan to suspend mandatory withdrawals from 401(k) retirement accounts.

The events reflected Mr. McCain’s frequently lurching campaign. For the past several weeks, as the polls have shown Mr. Obama, the Democratic nominee, gaining increasing ground, Mr. McCain’s traveling road show has veered from message to message and from pumping up hostile crowds to trying to calm them down. Each news cycle seem to bring another tactic as the campaign appears to be trying anything and everything to see what might work.

His temporary embrace of Mr. Obama came as Mr. McCain was repeatedly implored by voters at the town-hall-style meeting to “fight back” against Mr. Obama at the next presidential debate, on Wednesday, and to stop him from becoming president. But unlike at an earlier town-hall-style meeting this week in Wisconsin, where Mr. McCain sharply agreed with voters who urged him to punch back, this time he drew a line.

When a man told him he was “scared” of an Obama presidency, Mr. McCain replied, “I want to be president of the United States and obviously I do not want Senator Obama to be, but I have to tell you — I have to tell you — he is a decent person and a person that you do not have to be scared" of "as president of the United States.” The crowd booed loudly at Mr. McCain’s response.

Later, a woman stood up at the meeting, held at Lakeville South High School in a far suburb of Minneapolis, and told Mr. McCain that she could not trust Mr. Obama because he was an “Arab.”

Mr. McCain replied: “No, ma’am, he’s a decent family man, citizen who I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues. And that’s what this campaign is all about.” At that, the crowd applauded.

Mr. McCain and his campaign have been harshly criticized this week by Mr. Obama, Democrats, some Republicans and a number of columnists, commentators and editorial writers for stoking angry crowds at rallies, particularly those in which Mr. McCain appears with his running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska.

Crowds in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania have repeatedly booed Mr. Obama and yelled “off with his head,” and at a rally in Florida where Ms. Palin appeared without Mr. McCain, The Washington Post reported that a man yelled out “kill him.” At the same rally, a racial insult was hurled at an African-American television cameraman.

Representative Elijah E. Cummings, a Maryland Democrat, said Friday in an interview that he was surprised that neither Mr. McCain nor Ms. Palin had reacted, either by chastising audience members or discussing the events later. “It concerns me greatly when people come to the point where they take a political race, a race for president, and holler out words like ‘kill him,’ ” he said. “I just think our country is so much better than that.”

At the same time, Mr. McCain’s advisers sought to minimize the impact of those images of angry voters that have repeatedly been broadcast on television in the last two days.

“I don’t think it’s that big a deal,” Rick Davis, Mr. McCain’s campaign manager, told reporters in a conference call on Friday. “I think political rallies have always attracted people who have an emotional connection to the outcome of an election.”

Nicolle Wallace, one of Mr. McCain’s senior aides, tried to turn the tables on Mr. Obama on Friday and accuse him of denigrating the people who go to Mr. McCain and Ms. Palin’s rallies. “Broadsides against our supporters are insulting,” she said. “He attacks the same people he once called bitter.”

Within the campaign, there is a difference of opinion on the attacks, and some of Mr. McCain’s closest advisers have felt he should also criticize Mr. Obama for his ties to his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. But they say Mr. McCain believes that if he does so, he will be accused of racism.

“I personally believe that Jeremiah Wright is a legitimate issue to bring up,” one of Mr. McCain’s top advisers said. “But the candidate is refusing to do that out of an abundance of caution.”

Mr. McCain appeared far more cheerful and relaxed at the town-hall-style meeting in Lakeville than he has at any other recent campaign event. He smiled broadly, laughed easily and told a number of well-worn jokes from similar forums of a year ago. He kept the event going for more than an hour, even after his aides said it was time to bring it to a close.

But although the crowd was not as large and angry as previous crowds — Ms. Palin appears to attract greater numbers of frustrated voters — Mr. McCain at numerous points had to try to tone down the intensity.

At one point, after a voter told him he wanted to see a “real fight” at the debate and the crowd responded with a roar, Mr. McCain replied, “We want to fight, and I will fight, but we will be respectful.”

Then he added, “I admire Senator Obama and his accomplishments, I will respect him.” The crowd interrupted Mr. McCain to boo, but he kept talking. “I want everyone to be respectful and let’s make sure we are, because that’s the way politics should be conducted in America."

At that point, the crowd applauded.

Adam Nagourney contributed reporting from New York.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company