If the late, mercurial prize-winning novelist/journalist Norman Mailer were alive, he might very well say that Sarah Palin's political perfume has more than a whiff of fascism about it. Or, he might have said that Sarah Palin is the newest generation of hate and fear and that she loves her role as Empress of venality and slander.
He might have made either or both of these remarks, because he was a writer who loved to stroll into and out of the psyches of other people. This, of course, is entirely to be expected by a man of letters, an intellectual, a poet of the darkest of souls, and certainly a literary provocateur.
Unfortunately, the McCain-Palin ticket's only chance for electoral success this presidential campaign year is to start a street fight about Obama and ignore the economy and health care and the war in Iraq. In other words, Mailer would have been right about Palin and her surrogate McCain, but wrong about arguing with them on their turf.
Instead, I suggest the following solution to forestall the McCain-Palin lowest-common-denominator tactics. I propose changing the game and raising the ante by formally requiring the Director of the Secret Service to investigate the McCain-Palin campaign for inciting crowds at rallies to make threats against a presidential candidate.
To point out the obvious, this request for redress does not have to be done by Senator Obama himself. It could literally be done by anyone of good conscience. In fact, this editorial itself would easily serve as justification for contacting Senator McCain and Governor Palin and questioning them and their speechwriters about their incendiary remarks about Senator Obama.
I know. I know. I know. The first amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects freedom of speech for all American citizens. In addition the case law (see New York Times v. Sullivan) adds even a further layer of protected speech where public figures are involved. Nonetheless, the Secret Service is statutorily mandated to protect major presidential and vice presidential candidates and their spouses within 120 days of a general presidential election.
Let me put this particular law in perspective. Journalists in print and in broadcast have documented astounding incidents of threatening remarks directed at a presidential candidate, Senator Barack Obama. A very, very brief recounting of such phrases and epithets directed at Senator Obama by McCain-Palin supporters would include: "Kill him"; "Off with his head"; "Treason"; and "Terrorist."
Simply pause for a moment and imagine in your mind's eye either of the following two scenarios. I rise from my desk, pick up a simple black pen, find a piece of blank white typing paper, print the words, "Off with his head," and mail it to the Obama for President campaign headquarters after I have inscribed my return address on the envelope. Or, I attend a presidential rally for Senator Barack Obama or Senator John McCain, and while standing in the crowd, I yell, "Kill him." "Treason." "Off with his head." "Terrorist."
In either event, I assure you -- in fact, I would bet you a nickel -- that I would soon understandably and justifiably find myself being detained by the Secret Service for a lengthy questioning and possible felony arrest.
Governor Palin and Senator McCain individually and collectively speak of Senator Obama as someone engaged in direct or indirect acts of terror against the United States of America. To accomplish these elaborate public accusations, Governor Palin and Senator McCain must first meet with their staffs; draft the specific language of their speeches; review, edit and approve the specific language of their speeches; deliver their stump speeches repeatedly; and then witness and enjoy the effect their speeches create in the crowds.
Again, if I sat down in a room with a group of men and women tacitly sworn to a common goal that involved violently haranguing a presidential candidate, I would for a second time submit that I would be detained by the federal authorities and questioned and possibly arrested.
Every few years or decades, we are taught or re-taught that the United States of America is a nation of laws and not of men or women with power and influence. Presidents have been impeached and resigned office. A vice president pleaded nolo contendere and resigned his office. Congressmen have been fined and jailed. The laws of the United States apply to everyone all the time equally. Presidential candidates are no exception.
Year after year, the security of the President and other high officials becomes more precarious. Yet, Governor Palin and Senator McCain are now engaged in the pattern and practice of inciting hate groups of every sort. They give their political crowds the red meat of hatred and bigotry and racism. When public figures behave in such an atrocious manner, it gives others permission to ape their opinions and permission to act upon their own deepest prejudices.
No one expects the Secret Service to sit Senator McCain and Governor Palin down and read them the Riot Act about inciting acts of violence. However, it would not be out of balance in the real world for the Secret Service to point out the security risks involved in McCain and Palin daily roiling their supporting crowds to the point of their becoming a mob and thereby endangering another presidential candidate.
Lastly, it may possibly be true that technically neither Senator McCain nor Governor Palin could ever be convicted of threatening Senator Obama, a presidential candidate. But this metaphor is true. Senator McCain and Governor Palin have walked right up to the line of what is legal and illegal and have spit across it.