Jonathan Martin at Politico picked up a truly scary moment at a McCain town hall meeting in Wisconsin Thursday. You have to watch the video to see what happened, to understand what’s out there opposing Obama/Biden.
To me, more frightening than the man’s rant, or the crowd’s chant, was the McCain response. Shit-eating grin number three, and “The gentleman is right.”
The gentleman is right. Exactly what the snake-oil salesman says about his accomplice in the crowd, what the demagogue says about the thug at the back of the hall. The next sounds after that are yelling mobs, hob-nail boots on the pavement, breaking glass.
“It can’t happen here,” you say. “We’re… we’re Americans. We don’t do that sort of thing.”
Really? What sort of thing do we not do? My Lai? Abu Ghraib?
It’s John McCain who has to stop this now, stop it before it escalates into irreversible violence, before it tears at — sorry for the worn-out metaphor, but it’s precisely right — tears at the fabric of society. Tears us apart. It will also, and secondarily, be the end of whatever dignity and moral force we ever had or will have.
If McCain does not intervene, he will go down in history as far worse than merely an opportunistic pseudo-hero.
Update: It Isn’t Only Me
Last night and this morning, a lot of others have been expressing concern about this as well. Among them
- Michael Shaw at BagNewsNotes
- Josh Marshall at TPM
- Joe Klein at Time
- David Gergen on CNN
- even “Some McCain campaign officials”
As I said above, it’s John McCain who has to do something — and do it now — to rein in this behavior. Otherwise, it can only get worse.
Still later, but still not very late:
In Comments, Paco links to a post at Bloggerinterrupted, which features man/woman-in-the-street quickies with people lining up at a McCain-Palin rally. It will be a revelation if you think the anti-Obama crowd is surly guys in pick-up trucks and smart-ass talk show hosts. It’s a little bit of everyone.
Much much later
Maybe John got the message.
John McCain took the stage at a rally in Lakeville, Minnesota today, and made the first steps toward reclaiming his dignity. Ana Marie Cox was at the event, and here is the relevant part of her report. (Read the whole thing if you have time.)
He acknowledges the “energy” people have been showing at rallies, and how glad he is that people are excited. But, he says, “I respect Sen. Obama and his accomplishments.” People booed at the mention of his name. McCain, visibly angry, stopped them: “I want EVERYONE to be respectful, and lets make sure we are.”
The very next questioner tried to push back on this request, noting that he needed to “tell the American the TRUTH about Barack Obama.” McCain told her there’s a “difference between record and rhetoric, and I plan to talk about his record, respectfully.”
And then later… he just snatched the microphone out the hands of a woman who began her question with, “I’m scared of Barack Obama… he’s an Arab terrorist…”
“No, no ma’am,” he interrupted. “He’s a decent family man with whom I happen to have some disagreements.”
One swallow does not a summer make, and so forth. But it’s a beginning. Too late, I suspect, to turn things around for McCain — so far as becoming President is concerned — but still in time to leave him in the history books with more than an asterisk.
Several commentators looking at film from the McCain rally — the one where he called Obama a decent family man — think McCain’s body language contradicts his words. I disagree. Having watched the clip a couple times — you can watch it at TPM, among other places — I think yes, McCain is ill at ease, but it’s the discomfort of having to admit how wrong he was rather than the uncertainty of trying to sell what he thinks is a lie.
Maybe I’m giving McCain too much credit here. (A thing, as W C Fields might have said, I very seldom do.) Maybe it is all a sham, and he’s just making nice on a small scale here while his henchmen make nasty with lying TV ads in swing states. Maybe I feel guilty about constantly dissing the man, and want to cover my own ass.
Should we judge the man at least partially on what he says, with apparent sincerity, while his surrogates elsewhere are spouting exactly the opposite, apparently with his knowledge and approval? Do we cut him some slack on the basis of conflicted emotions, conflicting motives? I dunno.
One last item to add to this post, then I’ll drop it down to its chronological spot in the list. It’s a clip from a couple days ago, another set of comments from people lining up at a McCain rally. In the foreground, the McCain supporters. And behind the camera — out of sight but intermittently heard — is another group which may be pro-Obama or may be only anti-McCain (the two are not necessarily identical). These, keep in mind, constitute John McCain’s core group. Your neighbors and mine. Keep them in mind from now until election day, so that you don’t forget to vote.