Yesterday both Obama and McCain appeared at the 63rd annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner sponsored by the Catholic church. While their jokes were largely self-depricating in nature, each took time out to tell a few political jokes at their opponent’s expense as well. Both forms were largely expected and got great laughs.
McCain also took time out in the midst of his jokes to issue a heart felt statement about racism in the campaign. He made it very clear that he did not condone racism and was not running on a platform of racism. Despite all of the negative images of his supporters and he and his running mates own speeches, he seemed sincere. As I’ve said before, if you take real responsibility for what you have done and make a commitment not to do it again then most people watching or interacting with you will move on in good faith.
McCain Addressing Racism at the Event
Unfortunately, McCain’s appearance on Letterman, which started with a joke by McCain about supporting wire tapping, showed him once again defending “everyone who comes” to their rallies. While he stated there had been people who had been appropriate at his rallies, he was quick to imply there was equal inappropriateness at Obama rallies. Since no one at an Obama rally has cried out “kill them” (the terrorists and Obama) nor engaged in verbal and minor physical altercations with cameramen on the basis of their race or gender this is pure falsehood. While offensive things have been said and done on both sides, equating snark with death threats is not only offensive it shows a kind of cluelessness that makes me feel much less safe in N. America with McCain at the helm.
His “fringe” comments at Letterman
McCain also once again centered his hurt at comments made by Congressman Lewis instead of addressing the sexism that has been aimed at Palin. As I said yesterday, the sexism is a valid issue because there has been documented cases of it. And while no one has stirred up sexism in the Obama camp directly, both Biden and Obama issued statements very early on saying that sexism against Palin was unacceptable, and no one at a rally assaulted a female camera person as a result, the t-shirts are sexist and they need to be called out. McCain’s ongoing whining about Congressman Lewis’ logical comparison shows that McCain is both unwilling to address the racial implications of his campaign the last few weeks and to address sexism accept when it benefits him to keep Palin away from the press. The manipulation the McCain camp has used with regards to gender, picking a female runningmate without vetting her to woo the Clinton voters as if ovaries are all that matters, saying the media is sexist for asking to do interviews and thus refusing to give any – when all of her interviews have focused on her leadershop, her policies, and her role in the White House should she get there, and then failing to adequately address the sexism of the t-shirts shows how ideologically unfit McCain’s campaign is for addressing women’s issues. Ideologically unfit, because these are social issues. Their political agenda, reiterated in McCain’s praise of the Archbishop’s pro-life stance, is one that runs counter to a woman’s right to choose and is coupled to Palin’s rape kit scandal, her mishandling of domestic violence, and McCain’s own rape jokes and calling his wife a “cunt” (the word he now appears to delicate to utter in defense of his runningmate). Thus from a feminist perspective anyway, they are both politically and ideological unfit to represent all women in the White House.
McCain also resurrected the surreal on Letterman by denying that Obama had addressed the ACORN and Ayres issues AND claiming that Obama has yet to “repudiate Lewis.” Even when Dave called him out on the latter, McCain soldiered on as if he were telling the truth. Worse, returning to the issue of how being called a racist was worse than perpetrating xenophobia and racism and/or excusing it by saying we have no right to critique his supporters. This from a man who likened “Joe the Plumbers” income tax under Obama to a “drive by shooting” (direct quote).
Perhaps the worse part of the Letterman interview for me, taken in the context of all of the other events in the past weeks, is that McCain continues to otherize the oppressions present in his campaign by locating them on the fringe. He sees no connection between the “palling around with terrorists” and the rise of supporters claiming Obama is “un-American” “anti-American” an “Arab” (with all the loaded xenophboia that comes with that these days) and a “terrorist.” He sees no connection between how these comments in a climate that still brims with racism against Arabs and Muslims could lead to actual acts of violence even after the targeting of a black cameraman and a mock lynching. He continues to place the burden of those actions on some minuscule number of supporters while he gives stump speeches in which he and Palin say Obama may not be “our kind of people” or ask “what has he *really* been doing” all this time? Where is the accountability for the things he himself and his runningmate have said while he complains about Congressman Lewis?
Ad lying about Obama and Ayres Connection (linking him to events that happened 40 years ago when Obama was 8)
Ultimately, racism and sexism are part of the American landscape. Neither Obama nor Mccain can be held responsible for the individual actions of people who support these oppressions in their daily lives. What they can be held accountable for is remaining silent in the face of these oppressions as McCain clearly has more often than not. They can be held accountable for stirring up these oppressions as McCain, Palin, many of their introductory speakers (including the pastor who prayed for God to save America from Obama), and some Obama introductory speakers and supporters have done. And most importantly, they can and should be accountable for failing to understand the connection between their actions and the actions of their supporters. If McCain is incapable of seeing how his and his runningmate’s comments encourage bigotry – even after the rallies have clearly stirred them up, and the stats show that the hatred rose in step with their speeches – then how can he be expected to run this country? A basic understanding of cause and effect is a prerequisite to leading a global super power. Isn’t it?
As a woman, who expects all of the candidates to stand up against sexism, I am horrified by McCain’s insistence on being hurt about being called a racist when he has an ideal and valid point to make about sexism. As a person of color,
I feel unsafe in a nation in which a presidential candidate would stir up bigotry and then show complete and utter lack of awareness about the consequences.
While I agree with Obama that what we really need to focus on is the economy and foreign affairs, I know that once these issues are addressed issues of race and gender will still remain. As a historian, I know that in times of economic and social downturn or upheavel it is the marginalized people (immigrants, poc, women, etc) who bare the brunt of people’s fear. McCain’s words at the dinner last night were moving, his correction of the elderly woman at one of his rallies was appropriate, but neither seems to be in step with his logical fallacies nor his stump speeches and actions. If they were, perhaps a Republican leader would not have sent out welfare checks with Obama’s picture surrounded by watermelons and fried chicken yesterday. Perhaps, like the Democrats, they would know that kind of behavior would not be tolerated by their candidate nor welcome in a productive and unified America.
Please don’t let the polls, the attempts to disenfranchise, or apathy keep you from voting. Regardless of what you believe in, there is too much at stake to not vote.