Sunday, October 12, 2008

Two Fears and Three Pretty Big Embraces

John McCain may have tried to dial back the rhetoric yesterday, but the controversy over it continued, and is likely to be part of the Sunday talk show dialogue. For the fear that McCain and Palin have whipped up, and the fear and hate demonstrated at their rallies, has touched off public talk about another fear: of violence directed as supporters of Obama, and most specifically against Obama himself.

Rep. John Lewis was the most noted voice on the subject Saturday, prompting denials from McCain and partial agreement from the Obama campaign, which doesn't believe that race is otherwise going to be much of a factor in the actual election. While Lewis raised the historical spector of a church bombing and George Wallace's rhetoric, in his Sunday column Frank Rich sticks with the history of the McCain-Palin campaign and where it might be leading. He chronicles the escalating rhetoric, from the Republican convention through last week, culminating in just how the Bill Ayers association was played: "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."

Update: Here's another narrative on this subject by Time's Michael Scherer, who predicts "This election is going to end ugly."

It all clearly plays into the "he's a Muslin" Barack Hussein Obama mantras, which are often rationalizations for racism and hate. All of this is not exactly coming as news to African Americans whose names aren't John Lewis. It was fear for Obama's life that caused a lot to hang back from supporting him, along with their skepticism that a black man could ever be elected. Now that the primaries and the polls have produced some hope about the latter, the former is still on their minds.

For instance, at the very start of a Philadelphia Inquirer story about Obama's four campaign appearances in largely black areas of Philadelphia on Saturday: Helen Henderson, 82 years old and African American, sat in the sunshine at 52d and Locust Streets yesterday, waiting for Barack Obama to arrive. She said she felt excited, honored and blessed. "I never thought I'd live to see a black man in the White House," said the retired nurse, who lives in University City. "I sent him a small contribution in the mail. I owe it to him because he's taking a chance for us. I pray for him."

But Obama had big crowds everywhere he went in Philadelphia Saturday, while Sarah Palin (also in Philly) was getting loudly booed at a Flyers hockey game.
So just as there is conviction in the Obama campaign that in the end it will all turn out well, there is hope as well as fear in those with historical consciousness. The Inquirer story ends with another point of view: " At Vernon Park, David Wilcots, 46, an environmental engineer, contemplated the prospect of an Obama victory, which he and other African Americans now believe is a probability. On the one hand, Wilcots said, the venom expressed by the crowds at Republican rallies last week makes him fear for Obama's safety. On the other, he marvels at what might transpire on Nov. 4. "It wouldn't resolve everything in race relations, but it would mean we'd reached a milestone in this country thought to be impossible a few short years ago," he said. "America would be embracing as president a black person, a person of mixed-race background, and a person one generation removed from Africa. Those are three pretty big embraces."

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