By Al Giordano
(Photo: Hat tip to Jill Tubman at Jack & Jill Politics.)
Colin Powell, today on Meet The Press:
"I'm also troubled by - not what Senator McCain says - but what members of the Party say, and it is permitted to be said: such things as, "Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim." Well, the correct answer is he is not a Muslim. He's a Christian; has always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, "What if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country?" The answer's "No, that's not America." Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim American kid believing that he or she could be President? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own Party drop the suggestion he's Muslim and he might be associated with terrorists. This is not the way we should be doing it in America.
"I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo essay about troops who were serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery. And she had her head on the headstone of her son's grave. And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone. And it gave his awards - Purple Heart, Bronze Star; showed that he died in Iraq; gave his date of birth, date of death. He was twenty years old. And then at the very top of the headstone, it didn't have a Christian cross. It didn't have a Star of David. It had a crescent and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Karim Rashad Sultan Kahn. And he was an American. He was born in New Jersey, he was fourteen years old at the time of 9/11 and he waited until he could go serve his country and he gave his life."
It's becoming evident to almost everybody on all sides that America is at an historic threshold: this is very much like that moment in a wedding when it comes time to say, "I do."
Except that the next two weeks are the part where those who might object are encourage to "speak now or forever hold your peace."
We've already seen today various wedding crashers: Rush Limbaugh and Pat Buchanan outright seethed that Powell endorsed Obama only because, they say, he's black. There is an uptick of anecdotal information - in the media, from canvassers and volunteers, etcetera - of increasingly ugly statements of naked racism and aggression against Obama and his supporters.
It's exactly what happened late in the primaries last spring, only now that the prize is not just a nomination - a mere step toward state power - but state power itself, a certain segment of the population is beginning to freak out and blurt out its racist ideations and fears in public.
I'll argue, based on my own experience, that this is not bad news, strategically and tactically, nor a moment for panic: We've always known these people and that they exist. The academia-fueled "political correctness" wave since the 1970s has not served to change them, or society, one iota. It has, rather, repressed such expressions deeper down, turning them into a more compact and explosive compound, which will come spewing out now at the moment of greatest pressure. As Lenny Bruce said, "it is the suppression of the word that gives it its power."
And we all ought to know that very similar person deep inside every one of us, no matter what pigmentation is our personal wrapping paper.
Universal racism is the result of 5,000 years of social engineering: the powerful have always sought to divide and conquer the workers along such superficial lines, and the toll has been heavy on all. It's the dirty secret of America - and, frankly, all lands - that festers in the collective closet: fear of The Other.
It is a free-floating fear that attaches itself alternately to different targets, which is how the guy who hung an Obama ghost in effigy in his yard in Ohio this weekend, according to his local evening newscast, also put a Star of David atop it. Got that? He's afraid of blacks and Jews. And that has - if used effectively - the potential for reassuring elderly Jews in Florida about a President Obama!
And there's some blogger that published that hateful guy's home address and phone number, urging vigilantism against him. I think we need a little self-policing in our own ranks with hotheads like that, to talk them off the ledge, or, if that doesn't work, to build a firewall around them.
Panic is a vicious cycle that can be ignited by a stray spark almost anywhere. It's a first cousin, inbred, of race hate.
As the openly racist proclamations become louder in the coming two weeks, and you're offended by them, you have to take a deep breath and ask yourself - yes, even though it sounds cliché - "how would Martin Luther King respond to that?"
Listen and learn to how Obama himself responded to such publicly stated ideations today in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
Campaigning in a traditionally Republican state, the Democratic nominee found lots of supporters of John McCain, at least one woman who believes the Illinois senator is a "closet Muslim" - and another who repeatedly shouted "Socialist."
The following is a compilation of pool reports from print, TV and wire reporters who accompanied Obama to the diner:
Obama arrived at the barbecue joint around 12:30 p.m., where an older and majority white clientele of several dozen were eating lunch after church services. Many patrons applauded as he walked into the diner, but Diane Fanning, 54, began yelling "Socialist, socialist, socialist - get out of here!"
So how did Obama respond? He engaged the accuser, respectfully, on her terms:
Later, Obama came to the long table where Fanning and other members of a local First Presbyterian church were gathered. He held out his hand to her and asked, "How are you, ma'am?" but she declined to shake his hand.
Fanning asked Obama about a North American union, and Obama responded: "Well, you know, I am opposed to it if it were happening. But it doesn't seem to be actually be happening. The truth of the matter is there is no plans. I've talked to a lot of people, including folks down in Texas. There's no plan to create a common government between Mexico, U.S. and Canada. That's just not ... that's just not happening. I know some people have been hearing rumors about it. But as far as I can tell, that's just not something that's happening. We would never give up our sovereignty in that way. Any other questions?"
In an interview, Fanning said, "I still think he's a closet Muslim."
They're out there.
But you should have known that already.
Obama spoke at length with many of the others parishioners at the long banquet table and got a much friendlier reception as he spoke about health care, taxes and Social Security. Fanning told your pooler, "Some of ‘em are just nicer than I am. I know how some of ‘em think."
But several of her fellow churchgoers said their support was genuine. Betty Waylett, 76, told Obama, "You're doing a great job." She told your pooler that she is a Republican but that she will vote for Obama because she likes the way he speaks and his manner. Waylett, who is white, said Obama's race is not a factor.
The racially charged expressions by some are materia prima - if played right - for your own acts of political jujitsu: By responding to them without panic, without hostility, and at least putting on the theater of treating them respectfully and still trying to win them over, you win over the real "swing voters" in places like Virginia and Colorado and Florida (or at that same table in North Carolina).
The thing is, you gotta be cool and stay cool.
Get real: It sounds disingenuous and phony to pretend you're all shocked about what you knew was already there. Those that will launch with increasing volume into such racist tirades in the coming days should be seen as props; you won't convince them, but you can convince their neighbor with the grace that you show in dealing with them. That's what wins.
I fully expect Chicken Little-ism to rear its clucking head, one last time, very shortly, attaching its fear to the overt expressions of racism that will inevitably come spilling out now that the obvious is becoming apparent. Such expressions of panic - reputedly from our side of the aisle - will be potentially much more harmful to the shot at victory than the "fear of the other" ideations that will come from the mouths of the most confused and fearful.
All of that, too, will be evidence that the country is about to say "I do."
To paraphrase FDR: We have nothing to fight but fear itself.