As I sat through the 12 minute video that kicked off the John McCain Town Hall event in Derry, NH, I noticed the placards out of the corner of my eye. For some unknown reason two giant posters had been placed at each side of the cafeteria. One was of Hugo Chavez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad hugging each other and smiling. The other was of Vladimir Putin on a particularly bad hair day, signing something.
The introductory video, with symphonic swell and a flurry of short interviews with those that know him best, winds to an end. McCain, we learn, is a maverick, someone of strength, courage, and eternal optimism. The screen dims. The crowd, strangely unphased by being forced to watch a 12 minute commercial, turns back to the center of the room expectantly.
McCain is introduced. I fire up my camera and start waiting for the explanation of the posters.
After some swings at the French, an Irish joke, some tough talking about the Chinese, McCain finally gets to them.
"I want to mention one other issue with you real quick, and that's energy-slash-climate change. Over there," he says, pointing to Chavez and Ahmadinejad, "is a picture of two people who are, um, interesting."
("Interesting" is intoned in the voice my parents used to comment on the sound of my Pixies Surfer Rosa CD)
"One is the President of Iran, and the other is a guy named Hugo Chavez. He's president of Venezuala. Guy on the right controls 8% of our oil supply...you can see what close friends they are, the one on the right is close friends with CASTRO and spends his
time insulting the United States of America and our President. I don't have to tell you about Ahmadinejad the President of Iran who has announced his country's dedication to extinguishing the state of Israel, and is now developing NUCLEAR WEAPONS, and AS WE WE SPEAK, there are EXPLOSIVE DEVICES manufactured in his country going across the border and KILLING AMERICAN SOLDIERS...That's ANOTHER GUY that controls a lot of the world's oil supply...and over here...Vladamir Putin..."
Oh, you got to be kidding me. He's got Bush-itis. He can't talk about policy or science. He can only talk about how this relates to the specific "guys" we are duty-bound to hate.
But as I look around and find people nodding at this bizarro-world "climate change" speech, it hits me that McCain has tapped into something very important about the base: hate is their lowest common denominator.
And not just any hate. Personal hate. It wouldn't be enough to mention Venezuala, or even Chavez. They need the picture. They need to make it about that guy.
So when he puts of posters of people they despise and fear so that they can get a good gob of spit going, and then turns that hate toward energy policy, they don't see it as a transparent demagogic ploy.
They see it as brilliant.
All politicians are faced with a choice -- plug into charity and hope or plug into fear and loathing. Raise the crowd up, or speak to their worst instincts.
McCain's made his decision. And no 12 minute movie about his eternal optimism is going to change that.
Read more OffTheBus coverage and get involved by clicking here.