For my own part, obviously, I hope Barack Obama can pull off a victory on Tuesday. But more than that, I hope the result of the election can be a rebuke, a closing of the book on McCainism and the moral filth it has come to represent. I’m under no illusion that negative or even nasty campaigning will come to an end in the USA. I don’t think that’s realistic or even necessarily desirable. Hard-fought and brass-knuckle politics is something built into the fiber of American politics. It’s part and parcel of the intensity of belief and passion that many of us have for the issues at stake in our elections.
But McCain’s campaign has devolved into something altogether different … what with its increasingly open appeals to racial conflict and aggressive invocations of blood hatred of Arabs and Muslims. As The New Republic phrases it, McCain’s “subtle incitements of racial warfare and underhanded implications of foreign nativity.” Over the months we’ve become desensitized to the moral depravity of McCain’s campaign.
There is of course what appears to be a more conventional attack on economics and taxes. But ‘socialism’ refers, if we can speak in shorthand, to state ownership of large portions of the economy. In other words, something like the Bush administration’s decision to have the government purchase a large amount of the financial services industry. But as John Judis notes, a closer look at the language and imargery McCain’s ‘socialism’ pitch reveals it’s actually “about whites paying their taxes so that lazy, indolent, unemployed blacks can live off them.”
McCarthyism has rightly become an American shorthand for smearing liberals and anyone else from the center leftward as political traitors. The McCain campaign’s current campaign of villification of Rashid Khalidi is cut from a very similar cloth — the kind of rancid race-baiting that we sometimes see at the fringes of our politics but seldom quite so directly and formally from a national campaign, even going so far as to have McCain himself compare Khalidi to a neo-nazi. Where McCainism is different is in its particular amalgam of racism and xenophobia specially suited to this historical moment, to this opponent and to Americans’ continuing fears of foreign threat from Muslims and Arabs seven years into the War on Terror.
We’ll always have a national dark side. But some signal needs to be sent, at least for a while, that this sort of filth, his character assassination and appeals to race hatred is not an effective life raft for desperate opportunists looking to save themselves by degrading this country. A McCain defeat would go some way to accomplishing that.