A friend stopped me yesterday to say that the McCain/Palin rallies reminded her of the brown shirted fascists in Hitler's time. I reluctantly agreed.
Hatred unleashed in any era, is ugly. McCain is no Hitler but he and Palin are giving their fervent supporters permission, if not downright encouragement, to express their most base emotions, and they are doing it by whipping up fear. When people are afraid, as they were in the days of the economic chaos in the Weimar Republic in Germany they seek scapegoats. Then, it was the Jews.
McCain/Palin do not go so far as to name the scary enemy as an African American, but Barack Obama is clearly the enemy by implication. When Palin, who is the attack pit bull, at the prompting of the McCain handlers, asks "Who is the real Barack Obama?" they got some unexpected answers. The crowd turned from expressing normal campaign enthusiasm into creating an air of chilling menace. "Traitor," "terrorist, "kill him" and "off with his head," they shouted. He is "not one of us", is the message. He has "palled around with terrorists" (in Weimar days, it was the communists). By repeatedly asking "Who is the real Barack Obama?" this desperate Republican team is hinting that he has a hidden agenda -- an agenda that threatens all of us. By making Obama the Other, McCain/Palin are fueling racial paranoia.
It's downright dangerous. When statements that are politically incorrect suddenly become correct and are cheered into hysteria, no one is safe. Not Obama, and not our democracy.
It is time for McCain/Palin to stop whipping their supporters into a frenzy of hatred and tell them to stop. He did so for one moment, when he countered that there is nothing to fear in Barack Obama and Obama promptly thanked him. But Obama's gratitude was premature because a moment later, McCain was at it again, full force, in speeches and in political ads.
The good news is that Palin's numbers are down from six weeks ago. The bad news is that 39 percent of American voters still think she is "qualified to be president," 55 percent believe she is not. Usually when women express anger or turn negative, they loose support. One reason Palin my not be sinking faster is that she is in fact a pit bull who wears not only lipstick, but also a sweet smile as she hurls her nasty diatribes at Obama.
As expected, white women are coming home to the Democratic side. According to the Center for American Women in Politics at Rutgers University, married women, usually the most conservative group, (they supported George Bush by 55% in 2004) favor Obama over McCain by 6 points. I always thought that the story line that angry Hillary supporters were either going to stay home or vote for McCain in significant numbers was exaggerated. It turns out a majority of women have common sense. They do not vote on the basis of gender (surprise!) they vote on the issues, they vote on qualifications.
Since 1980 the gender gap has been as high as 10%. In 2008, the gender gap may determine the outcome of this election because women vote in greater numbers than men and women tend to vote in larger numbers for Democrats.
There is evidence that women are more turned off than men by the vicious attacks we've seen in the last week. If all this holds true, women hold the key to this election.
Madeleine M. Kunin is the former Governor of Vermont and was the state's first woman governor. She served as Ambassador to Switzerland for President Clinton, and was on the three-person panel that chose Al Gore to be Clinton's VP. She is the author of Pearls, Politics, and Power: How Women Can Win and Lead from Chelsea Green Publishing.