Inciting Violence Against Obama

The McCain campaign has puffed up its chest recently about its headfirst dive into the mud. Keith Olbermann’s Special Comment last night provides as concentrated a deconstruction of this strategy as I’ve seen in any medium.

Going beyond Palin’s role as a mud slinger, in the past few days rhetoric coming from McCain and Palin has lead to multiple instances where audience members volunteer that Obama is a “terrorist” and the response should be to “kill him,” Jeffrey Feldman takes a look at the consequences of the words Palin and McCain are using.

The ‘dangerous road,’ however, is not just a generic attack on Sen. Obama’s trustworthiness or honesty. Rather, the McCain campaign has chosen to stand before campaign rallies and accuse Sen. Obama of hiding sympathies with domestic terrorists–to accuse their opponent, essentially, of being a terrorist.

With the McCain campaign now using the Palin stump speech to accuse Sen. Obama of hiding a terrorist agenda, the McCain campaign has staked its future on rhetoric that skirts the boundary between character assassination and incitements of actual violence against their opponent.

Meanwhile, while McCain is not yet accusing Obama of terrorism in his own stump speech, the crowds at his rallies are.

In a recent video clip from MSNBC, McCain asked a rally, “Who is the real Barack Obama?” In response to McCain’s rhetorical question, a voice from the crowd can be clearly heard to shout in response, “Terrorist!” (link)

Since the start of the election campaign well over a year ago, voters have been subject to ongoing smear campaigns in emails and push polls accusing Sen. Obama of ties to and sympathies with domestic and foreign terrorist groups. No matter how many times these smear campaigns have been exposed, they continued. Now that John McCain and Sarah Palin have echoed these accusations–the idea that Sen. Obama is secretly a terrorist has the stamp of approval of a presidential campaign, but of a multi-term U.S. senator and a U.S. governor.

One wonders at this point how the various agencies charged with the responsibility of protecting the Presidential candidates from violence will respond to this latest tactic from the McCain campaign. If, for example, a McCain supporter threatens the life of Sen. Obama by shouting ‘Kill him!’ at a Palin rally, should Sen. Obama’s Secret Service contingent launch an investigation? Having been accused of terrorist ties by the McCain campaign, will Sen. Obama’s name be put on the ‘No Fly’ list, effectively making it impossible for him to engage in normal airline travel?

I don’t think it’s possible to understand how dangerous the line McCain and Palin are walking is, especially as Palin in particular deliberately crosses it. While free speech is protected in the Constitution, the Supreme Court has ruled that no protection exists for yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater. What we’re seeing from McCain-Palin is approaching such a situation. Words mean things and when we are a country in two wars — one in response to terrorism, the other marketed as a response to terrorism — the word “terrorist” is one of the most potent words, to be used in the most particular situations, grounded in fact. As McCain and Palin play the fear card, their diction speaks more to their reckless desperation than to any meaning connected to the words they use have to reality.

Naturally the Obama hatred hasn’t stopped today. Huffington Post has the details.

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