Wednesday, 22 October 2008

No True Scotsman

The US presidential election has taken a really nasty turn in recent weeks, it has for a large part descended into gutter politics fuelling on an angry xenophobic mob. The nature of any election campaign is not to be the best candidate for the job, rather it's to be the best candidate for the election process. In this, it's hard to fault the negative campaign, if they believe they are the best people to do the job for the country then it's their duty to do all they can to get elected. The problem though with wedge politics is that election processes come to an end, yet society still remains.

Causing division in the community is suddenly not going to cease the moment the results are in; the further the wedge is pushed in, the further apart people are separated along those lines. Australia entered a very ugly societal position from just that sort of campaigning, the Tampa crisis combined with 9/11 which led to moral panic around Islam gave the perfect platform for John Howard's re-election. It also left the community bitterly divided, and 7 years on the jingoism is still causing problems. To question is to be unpatriotic, the flag was now a sacred symbol and anyone who disagreed was unaustralian. So many shirts at the Big Day Out with the slogan "Australia - love it or fuck off".

But this import from America of that extreme form of nationalistic patriotism is hardly a surprise in the post-9/11 world. And as much as I would love to blame the politicians for exploiting the deepest fears of an uncertain collective, the real blame does lie with the people. The only reason these political strategies work is because enough of the population buys into it. It's easy to dismiss these people as being sheep; easily led automatons who don't exercise any free will. That attitude isn't helpful, it's wrong and portrays them in a similar negative light to how they see us.

So back to the US where the American conservative base has done all it can to portray Obama as wrong for middle America. The Bill Ayers affair epitomises the gutter politics that is being seen nightly in the media. Why can they tie the actions of this 60s radical to a politician who was 8 years old at the time? For the same reason as those chain emails labelling Obama an unamerican Muslim spread quickly. There are those who are uncomfortable with him, and are looking for any justification to dismiss him as wrong for America.

The angry mob is now at a frenzy, mention of his name at republican rallies is receiving audience shouts of "TERRORIST!" and "KILL HIM!". One thing I have admired is McCain's attempt to diffuse the angry mob, but it may be too little too late. The lipstick-wearing pitbull that was chosen as a running mate has more than happily pushed Obama into the most unfavourable light possible, inciting the angry crowd with cutesy hate speech. McCain really needs to put his pitbull on a leash, it's his campaign and he's the one that is ultimately accountable for the actions of the joe-sixpack hockey-mum who speaks for small-town main street American values.

Now that is where the real venom has been in the last couple of weeks. There's more and more talk about the "real America", about "true Americans" who "love their country". It's nothing more than racism masquerading as patriotism. Some commentators like Rush Limbaugh at least don't have the pretence, his comments about former Secretary of State Colin Powell's endorsement of Obama dismissed it as entirely to do with race. Could it have been that Powell genuinely felt that Obama is the best candidate to take America forward? That Obama's cool head in the midst of this financial crisis and his crossing of the generational gap are assets that Powell wants in a leader? Could it be he's disgusted by the rabid anti-intellectualism and gutter politics that are part of the Republican platform? Not according to Limbaugh.

The "real American" rhetoric may win votes, it may convince the undecided voters who are concerned about Obama that he's not looking out for his best interests. Because apparently Obama is an elitist, working as a community organiser and serving on a charity board have been republican fodder. But the divisive politics is taking it's toll, both Keith Olbermann and Jon Stewart have rightly stepped in to disassemble this dirty political rhetoric. Even if it doesn't work to win McCain the election, it will still be a sour taste in the mouths of every Obama-hating "true American". As Barack Obama said:
"There are no real or fake parts of this country. We are not separated by the pro-America and anti-America parts of this nation—we all love this country, no matter where we live or where we come from."
It will be a dark day for mankind if McCain is elected on a wave of glorified xenophobia, especially given his bipartisan mantra.

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