John McCain and Rhetorical Excess

When audience members of McCain/Palin rallies yell, “Kill Him!” “Off with his head” and “terrorist” it’s dangerous. McCain finally challenged one woman in Minnesota today and called for his followers to respect Sen. Obama. McCain was booed, which should have told him something.

In an atmosphere of anxiety and fear fueled by a global financial collapse, the rhetoric of both Palin and McCain have stoked the fears and fostered racism of the kind that has led to violence not only in the United States in the past but also in other nations.

David Gergen on CNN comments that the tone of the rallies could lead to violence. Baltimore Sun op-ed commentator Frank Schaeffer said McCain faces a choice about how he will be remembered in history: You have changed. You have a choice: Go down in history as a decent senator and an honorable military man with many successes, or go down in history as the latest abettor of right-wing extremist hate.

This, coupled with class baiting adds fuel to fires of alienation and division that have, in fact, led to serious social cleavages and even death. David Brooks wrote this morning of the Republican Party’s abandonment of intellectual  rigor. “What had been a disdain for liberal intellectuals slipped into a disdain for the educated class as a whole,” writes Brooks.

This calls to mind two historical events. The first is the recent genocide in Rwanda when Tutsis were called “cockroaches” by Hutus and angry mobs were rallied by radio. The phrase “hate radio” gained prominence. The anger was stoked and a rampage began that resulted in 10,000 Tutsis per day killed. Ultimately the toll was 800,000 Tutsi lives lost.

The second is the anti-intellectual platform of the Khmer Rouge in Kampuchea under the radical reforms led by Pol Pot. The fractured society was so riven that those who were educated, even those who wore glasses were considered enemies of the collective agrarian society and were killed. The toll in this southeast Asian nation is still disputed but the most conservative estimate is 500,000 people killed.

When “others” have been diminished and de-humanized, when hateful rhetoric has been distributed  by major media and when primal fears have been stoked with political rhetoric, terrible things can happen.

I would not argue that McCain/Palin are intentionally fomenting violence, but they are setting a dangerous tone, especially among those whose grip on reality is tenuous. Once unleashed,  these emotions can erupt out of control. The ingredients for genocide are not present in the campaign. But we need only recall Timothy McVeigh, Theodore Kaczynski, and Lee Harvey Oswald to remember that twisted minds with political agendas can be lethal.

The fears and alienation in this time of crisis are real and the potential for harm is too great to tolerate the continuing rhetoric of diminishment and fear.

2 Responses to “John McCain and Rhetorical Excess”

  1. Burr Deming October 11, 2008 at 2:27 am #

    Before we make a choice we may regret for the next four years, the accusations against Barack Obama should be carefully considered, as they are here.

  2. Paul Black October 11, 2008 at 3:53 pm #

    I have no problem with investigating the facts but what we have here is a conspiracy of innuendo. If the McCain/Palin campaign has evidence, bring it on. But this idea of planting the seed of doubt without evidence buttressing the argument does a disservice to the entire body politic. Both candidates have suffered a failure of nerve in these last days; let’s just hope Nov. 4 comes before every fabric is ripped apart, making it impossible for either candidate to govern once elected. The stakes are too high to engage in such rhetoric.

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