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Desperation Makes for Dangerous Politics

Desperation Makes for Dangerous Politics

by Dr. Wilmer J. Leon III,
Ph.D., t r u t h o u t | Perspective

As America moves into the final days of the 2008 presidential campaign Senator McCain and his surrogates are desperately seeking any message that will resonate with the American people. The problem is that their desperate actions are resulting in dangerous and ugly politics.

Senator McCain hails himself as a maverick - a visionary and independent man who breaks from the politics of the past. Actually, McCain and his supporters are simply pandering to the conservative right and the fringe elements of America. They are not "reaching across the aisle" or "seeking consensus." His campaign is not building bridges to move the country forward; it's building bridges to nowhere. McCain and his surrogates have turned to fear mongering through racist innuendo as Senator McCain attempts to become America's 44th president.

On Sunday, October 19, on "Meet the Press," Gen. Colin Powell, a centrist Republican, offered a well-thought-through and eloquently articulated endorsement of Senator Barack Obama. General Powell clearly explained that Senator McCain's selection of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin for vice president raised his concerns about McCain's judgment. General Powell also spoke about the troubling nature of the personal attacks on Senator Obama, based on false intimations, and that: "Over the last seven weeks, the approach of the Republican Party has become narrower and narrower." He also said he became "concerned" that "in the case of Mr. McCain, he was a little unsure how to deal with the economic problems."

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When asked by Tom Brokaw if race played a factor in his decision, General Powell said that he had pondered a decision for months, and that he had told Obama, "I'll give you all the advice I can, but I'm not going to vote for you just because you're black." For some reason, conservatives such as Limbaugh and George Will cannot take General Powell at his word. In an effort to dismiss General Powell's endorsement as less than substantive and provoke old racist fears, Limbaugh and Will both pointed to race as the basis for General Powell's endorsement. Limbaugh said Powell's decision was "totally about race." Will stated that the Powell endorsement, "adds to my calculation - this is very hard to measure - but it seems to me if we had the tools to measure we'd find that Barack Obama gets two votes because he's black for every one he loses because he's black, because so much of this country is so eager, a) to feel good about itself by doing this, but more than that to put paid to the whole Al Sharpton/Jesse Jackson game of political rhetoric."

Is George Will suggesting that Barak Obama has an inherent advantage in this election because he is African-American? I've always admired George Will's intellect even though I've disagreed with his politics. This statement makes me wonder; what America is he living in? What poll data is he not looking at? That's an utterly stupid assessment.

In California, a Republican group in San Bernardino County distributed a newsletter that depicted Senator Obama on a fake $10 food stamp along with images of a watermelon, ribs and a bucket of fried chicken. On an official state Republican Party web site in Sacramento County, Republicans posted a series of violent anti-Obama images and statements. Senator Obama was depicted in a turban and paired with images of Osama bin Laden, with a caption that read: "The only difference between Obama and Osama is BS." Below that were the words "Waterboard Barack Obama!" This goes right to General Powell's issues with the false intimations that Obama is Muslim.

Senator McCain has stated that Hamas endorses Senator Obama, "I think it is very clear who Hamas wants to be the next president of the United States ... I think that the people should understand that I will be Hamas' worst nightmare!"

This libelous, slanderous and inflammatory rhetoric has turned dangerous. At a recent McCain campaign rally, when McCain asked, "Who is Barack Obama?" a supporter screamed "terrorist"! In Pennsylvania during a speech by Sarah Palin, one supporter screamed "kill him" in reference to Obama.

While it is clearly understood that Senator McCain is not responsible for the actions of his supporters and those who endorse him, we do expect a man claims to break from the politics of the past to soundly and clearly disassociate himself from these tactics. Senator McCain should repudiate and disavow those engaged in this behavior in the same manner Senator Obama was forced to repudiate and disavow Reverend Wright. Instead, McCain uses Sarah Palin to spread the most vicious of the attacks. At a rally in Denver, Palin said, "This is not a man who sees America as you see it and as I see America - our opponent, though, is someone who sees America, it seems, as being so imperfect that he's palling around with terrorists who would target their own country." All may be fair in love, war and politics, but the rhetoric of desperation should at least be based in fact and not place the well-being of your opponent in peril.

There are other signs of desperation in the McCain campaign. In the final presidential debate, Senator McCain played his trump card, his ace in the hole. He invoked the image of "Joe the Plumber." A hard-working plumber in Ohio who wants to buy his own plumbing business but can't because of Senator Obama's tax policy. The only problem is that in his haste to score points, Senator McCain failed to thoroughly vet "Joe," the same way he failed to thoroughly vet Governor Palin. "Joe the Plumber," who is actually Joe Wurzelbacher, is not licensed in Ohio as a plumber (therefore, he's a guy who does plumbing, not a plumber), owes $1,200 in back taxes and is further away from owning his own business than Russia is from Governor Sarah Palin's back yard.

In a desperate attempt to demonstrate leadership and appear presidential, Senator McCain announced that he would suspend his campaign and fly back to Washington, DC, to work on the Wall Street bailout plan, saying, "We must meet - until this crisis is resolved." McCain senior strategist Steve Schmidt said the campaign suspension would include pulling McCain's television ads and halting fundraising, and that his vice-presidential running mate, Sarah Palin, would not participate in campaign events either. None of this came to be. Two days later, when the media and public would not take the bait, Senator McCain was off to Mississippi to participate in the first debate - and oh, by the way, an agreement on the bailout plan had not been reached.

If Senator McCain plans to run this country the same way that he has run his 2008 presidential campaign, he leaves the American people with a lot of questions to answer. His management of this campaign has proven to be irresponsible at best and reckless at its worst.

While watching CNN before the final presidential candidate debate, William "Bill" Bennett, neoconservative and former secretary of education under Reagan, was asked, "What do you need to see from Senator McCain during this debate?" Bennett answered, "I want to see the fighter pilot John McCain." Well, that's who we have been seeing.

Depending on which reports you read, Navy aviator and now Republican nominee for president Senator John McCain crashed four or five planes, (three or four in training and one in combat) between 1960 and 1967. At least one of those crashes was caused by his own irresponsible and reckless behavior, as his own words reveal:

McCain, 1999 (p. 159): There were occasional setbacks in my efforts to round out my Navy profile. My reputation was certainly not enhanced when I knocked down some power lines while flying too low over southern Spain. My daredevil clowning had cut off electricity to a great many Spanish homes and created a small international incident.

It's that same "daredevil clowning" and reckless behavior that he demonstrated in the Navy that has made its way into his campaign. These desperate actions are resulting in dangerous and ugly politics. It is very important to pay attention to what a candidate does to get elected. The behavior he/she demonstrates while campaigning provides insight into how he/she will govern. It also demonstrates what that individual will do to get reelected. None of which America can afford.


Dr. Wilmer Leon is producer/host of the nationally broadcast call-in talk radio program "On With Leon," a regular guest on CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight, and a teaching associate in the Department of Political Science at Howard University in Washington, DC. Go to or email:

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