John McCain and Sarah Palin turned a corner last week, after the Vice Presidential debate. Palin managed not to embarrass herself too badly, and therefore was declared a winner, and apparently ready to be vice president, and possibly president, without having ever held a single news conference or really leveled with the American people. But it is the reality of McCain's campaign that being able to approximate mediocrity is sufficient. With this amazing feat, Ms. Palin was fully vetted. She was ready to go forth and snarl.
Losing ground in the polls and without a real message other than empty rhetoric and the occasional 180 degree turn on this issue or that, McCain unleashed his minion, and away she went, doing what she does best - attacking. She's someone who doesn't do well with "annoying" questions, but she's downright perky while twisting a knife in your innards, whether you are a moose or a presidential candidate, and there are certain people who just love her, love her. There are even some pundits who "sit a little straighter" when she gives you that old Wasilla wink.
Palin is all hopped up on power now. She feels it. It's gotta be God's will, you betcha. And she's going to tell her followers how dangerous and scary and "different" Barack Obama is. How he's "pallin' around with terrorists." How he doesn't have the vision of America that "we" have.
Palin's righteous sounding, but unfounded, attacks on Obama apparently resonate on small minded, bigoted people who are quite likely terrified of something they can't understand - like a highly accomplished and obviously superior man who happens to have a shade of skin a few tones darker than they do. So they'll believe anything. They'll get all hopped up with Palin and start yelling out all kinds of horrible chants, like "terrorist" and "kill him." What Palin is doing, and knows she's doing, is inciting a mob.
Two images come to mind when I think of what she's doing, one funny and one frightening. The funny one is the mob scene in the original version of Frankenstein, with all the villagers storming the castle with their torches. It's funny because it's fiction, and it's campy. (My friends tell me that Jon Stewart used a scene just like that on The Daily Show, but I didn't watch it - yet.)
The other image is much worse. It's of Hitler inciting a crowd to hate Jews, emphasizing their "difference" and making people afraid. Fear turning to hate.
As an aside, I had a friend who was once a member of the Dutch Resistance. He was captured and taken to Berlin, where he was tortured and enslaved by the Nazis. He told only a few stories from those times, but one of them has always remained in my mind. He told of being paraded with a group of Nazi slaves in front of a huge gathering. They were placed at the front of the crowd, while Hitler took the stage. My friend, who spoke German, listened to Hitler speak. What he told me was chilling. He said, "Listening to him, it was clear that he had some kind of power - a charisma. When he spoke, people stood up. They yelled, 'Sig Heil!' And, what was worse, is that I could feel it too, from the front row, and I had to restrain myself from standing up with them."
Palin has something. She has a natural charisma. She hasn't any wisdom or experience to speak of. She has a distorted world view and a vicious streak the size of her famous Alaskan pipeline, but she attracts people and can move people in a way that McCain never could. So, to me, she's dangerous, because she can incite people into a hate state. She is doing it now.
The problem is, whoever wins this presidential election, we are all losers because of what McCain and Palin are doing now. Let me say that again, Joe Biden-like. We are all losers.
McCain and Palin are poisoning the well (an old tactic used in warfare when you were leaving a territory or forced out. You poisoned the well so that your enemy could not use it.) They are inciting hatred and possibly violence, possibly as another desperate strategy to charge up their "base," and possibly simply as a scorched earth policy. But whatever they are doing, we are going to be the losers.
We live in a fractured society with diverse views and beliefs. In fact, the United States has never been free of prejudice and conflict in its entire history. Great strides have been made. We've freed the slaves and enfranchised women. We've fought for civil rights and emerged as a beacon of hope and equality in the world. But we have never entirely eliminated our divisions, nor, perhaps should we - as long as we can carry our different views together for the betterment of all.
But despite all the gains we have made over more than two centuries, people like McCain and Palin, and their predecessors, Gingrich, Norquist, Reed, Cheney, Bush and others, seek to accentuate and inflame our divisions and set us against each other. Our nation today is more deeply divided, more deeply partisan, and more critically weakened than it was eight years ago. And now we have people stirring the pot for nothing more than political gain. Country first? Give me a break.
So we lose, because our neighbors will hate each other. We lose because our leaders (some of them) show that they have no real values, and as leaders, they are expected to set the standards for our nation. We lose because, as Abraham Lincoln once said, "A house divided against itself cannot stand."
Barack Obama has run a campaign centered around hope, change and healing the divisions. It's clear that his belief in the American people is profound and positive. It's time for McCain and Palin to realize that only by promoting unity and peace among us can they truly put country first.
UPDATE: This video doesn't say it all, but it's certainly indicative of the closed-minded and factually devoid qualities of the mob. The most amazing statement, to me, was that Obama was a terrorist. Why? Look at his name. That's it?
Click to watch: The Palin Mob