We’ve entered the final stretch of the presidential election and the drowning McCain campaign has resorted to the oldest playground tactic in the book: name-calling. Last week it was “anti-American,” a tack recommended to Hillary Clinton by a top advisor last year but which the senator wisely declined to exercise. This is nothing new, of course: False accusations that Barack Obama doesn’t wear a flag pin, that he refuses to pledge allegiance to the American flag, and that he’s a Muslim have circulated throughout the Internet and by the mainstream media for over a year. But the candidate managed to escape those scurrilous claims—at least enough to win his party’s nomination and take a lead in the latest polls. And so, desperately, deliberately and recklessly, surrogates for John McCain have decided to go whole-hog, with Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann summoning the worst in our country’s political history by suggesting Obama is anti-American and calling for a McCarthyite witch hunt in Congress.
At a rally in Waukesha, Wisconsin earlier this month, a McCain supporter took the microphone and declared his uncontainable anger: “I’m mad. I’m really mad, and what may surprise you is it’s not the economy,” he spat to a roar of cheers. “We’ve got to have our heads examined,” he continued, referring to the prospect of electing Obama as our next president. “It’s time to have you two [McCain and Vice Presidential lightning rod Sarah Palin] represent us. So go get ’em.” It was a call for the McCain campaign to get tougher—and presumably dirtier—on Obama, and when I first saw a clip of the man’s rant on television, I wondered what could possibly have filled him with such anger, hatred and resentment. After all, his party has held the presidency for 20 out of the last 28 years and has had control of Congress for 12 out of the last 14. I thought, “He’s angry?”
So what is Joe Angry really peeved about? “It’s the socialists taking over our country!” he declared to another round of hearty cheers and chants of “U.S.A.!,” as if every election is the fucking Super Bowl and only one side has the country at heart, like each nation in a war believes it has God on its side. Bachmann was repudiated by many in her own party, but Palin has gone one step further with no complaint, implying that not only is the Democratic party’s presidential nominee anti-American, that certain geographical regions of America itself are anti-American, that the “real” America and real “patriots” can be found in “small towns,” but that Obama is a socialist, a tag that has been repeated ad nauseam by those in and outside the campaign. No longer content to call their Democratic opponents “tax-and-spend liberals,” they’ve reduced a policy criticism to a fear-mongering smear.
Using fear, of course, is the neoconservative movement’s modus operandi. On Hannity & Colmes last night, Sean Hannity and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich postulated that the Obama-Biden ticket is lying about their tax policy, which proposes to lower taxes for Americans making less than $200K and raising taxes for those making over $250K. With absolutely no evidence for such a claim, the pair volleyed the idea back and forth, with Hannity proudly showing a montage of dubiously edited clips alleging that the threshold for people who will enjoy a tax cut under Obama has been lowered from $250K to $200K and now $150K. What he and Gingrich are intentionally ignoring is something a six-year-old could understand. Obama has never claimed that those who make $249,999 will get a tax cut. His policy is clear: Those making less than $200K will get a tax break; those making between $200K and $250K won’t see a change; those making more than $250K will see a tax increase. It’s first-grade math and they’re distorting the plan by conflating two different statements to make it seem like Obama is lying when the fact is that they’re the liars.
As for that $150K figure: In an interview with a local television station in his hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania, Biden defended the Obama plan by saying that an “$87 billion tax break doesn’t need to go to people making an average of $1.4 million. It should go, like it used to, to middle-class people—people making under $150,000 a year.” It’s unclear whether the discrepancy between $200K and $150K was simply an error on Biden’s part or if, as an aide told MSNBC, he was using the figure to arbitrarily represent what he considers the “middle class” (after all, he randomly chose the figure $1.4 million and no one is suggesting that they’re only going to increase taxes for those making over that amount), but there’s no evidence to suggest that their tax plan has changed at all. And it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the right wing is slicing and dicing these figures and quotes. In his misleading piece “Obama, Biden Shift ’Tax Break’ Threshold,” Rick Pedraza stripped Biden’s statement of a key phrase, “like it used to”—four little words that couldn’t have possibly affected his word count very much but which conveniently ignores a key component to the Democrats’ policy: returning tax rates to what they were under Bill Clinton.
Mainstream and fringe pundits alike have pounced on Obama’s use of the phrase “spread the wealth” during his conversation with Joe the Plumber, seizing the opportunity to liken the Senator to a communist, even quoting Karl Marx. After the Drudge Report unearthed an audio interview in which Obama discussed the courts’ involvement (or lack thereof) in economic redistribution in the wake of the civil rights movement, the right cried that it was proof of Obama’s frightening plan to socialize the United States. Rush Limbaugh—who is so afraid of Obama that he attempted to upset his nomination by encouraging listeners to vote for Clinton during the primary and called for bloodshed in the streets at the Democratic convention—laughably parsed Obama’s words, claiming the senator “flatly rejected” the Constitution and thinks it’s “flawed.” (Limbaugh even recycled the “he doesn’t wear a flag pin” myth to hammer his point home.) What Obama was, in fact, referring to was the failure of the Constitution to outlaw slavery and its distinction of African-Americans as three-fifths of a person.
An essential component to realizing Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of racial equality is economic equality. King himself recognized economic parity as not just a product of the civil rights movement but a requirement for it. Last summer, the House of Representatives passed a resolution apologizing for slavery and acknowledged that “the vestiges of Jim Crow continue to this day.” Though the resolution did not address reparations, some have called on the U.S. government to provide financial benefits to descendants of slavery, a proposal I personally take issue with but which can and should be addressed within the current progressive tax system—specifically, tax legislation that more broadly helps the middle class and the poor, of which many oppressed groups are largely a part.
The utter absurdity of calling Obama’s views on tax policy “socialism” is astounding. The Wall Street bailout is the epitome of socialized government, which is why this latest stream of attacks doesn’t seem to be working for Republicans. Most of the country is now in favor of socializing health care—at least to a degree. And Democratic socialism has, for the most part, succeeded in Europe, while much of our country has already been socialized: Medicare, the U.S. Postal Service, Social Security—hell, the patron saint of the Republican party, Ronald Reagan, even increased taxes to save the Social Security system with a $165 bailout back in the early 1980s.
Calling Obama a socialist is, of course, code for—you guessed it—“un-American,” which is code for, you know, Muslim…or black…or anything scary to the average white Middle American. So, to Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and Newt Gingrich and Michele Bachmann and Joe Angry, I ask this: What is “un-American”? Is it un-American to declare a war on a sovereign nation that hasn’t attacked you? To defy the Geneva Conventions? To fire U.S. attorneys because they refuse to carry out partisan investigations? To attempt to use the Constitution to limit the rights of U.S. citizens? To suspend habeas corpus? To eavesdrop on U.S. citizens without court approval? To protect big corporations ahead of protecting the people? To neglect U.S. veterans when they’ve returned maimed or emotionally traumatized? To out a C.I.A. operative as political payback? To encourage war profiteering by offering no-bid contracts to mercenaries and private companies with no oversight or accountability? To let people perish in a hurricane? To neglect the environment, deny global warming and alter scientific data in the interest of big business? To wage war without asking the American people to support it by paying for it? To attempt to bolster one branch of the U.S. government in the name of attaining more power? To ignore over 1,000 provisions of U.S. law in an unprecedented use of “signing statements”? To abuse executive privilege to hide criminal activity and incompetence within an administration?
Lack of self-awareness isn’t a monopoly held by politicians, let alone Republicans, but Sarah Palin should hang a plaque alongside her myriad moose heads. She is the latest holy hypocrite to be propped up and exalted by the Republican party: Her husband was, or still is, a secessionist (anti-American—check!) and she runs a state where, to quote her in The New Yorker last month, “Alaskans collectively own the resources, so we share in the wealth when the development of those resources occurs” (socialist—check!). The lady better grab herself a dictionary, a copy of the Constitution and probably a newspaper before she even considers a 2012 run for the White House.
This blog entry was originally published on Slant Magazine on the date above.