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Martin Garbus

Martin Garbus

Posted: June 30, 2008 04:28 PM

Death in the Afternoon


Charles Black linking future terrorist attacks to McCain's chances of winning, like Hillary, who spoke of Robert Kennedy's assassination in the context of this election were both speaking self-serving truths.

While we can condemn their words, we should not think that those words give assassins or terrorists ideas that they might not otherwise have. But we should understand that the idea of these murderous acts and their effect on the campaigns have been discussed, both on the candidates' teams and among citizens. Given the viciousness of much of the campaign, it would not surprise me if some American citizens did not want to see these "beneficial" acts.
Potential perpetrators of these murderous acts have known about these acts for long periods of time and have had plenty of time to prepare them. Sen. Barack Obama's extreme security has been with us for over a year. So, too, has homeland security.

Both politicians merely said what you and I and everyone knows. As campaigns get longer and politicians and their handlers get exhausted, as every single word in a campaign is recorded and the candidates become more desperate for issues, we can expect more horrors, more "unthinkable" horrors, to become sayable. The unthinkable has become the thinkable and the thinkable it goes from the unsayable to the sayable.

Previous assassination attempts and civilian killings have occurred sporadically through our history. They cannot be laid at the foot of any politician's doorstep. Lincoln's assassination fed by hatreds of the civil war was a known possibility, wished for by many years before it occurred. John Hinckley's unsuccessful assassination attempt on President Reagan was not triggered by politicians' words but by a sick mind.

All Charles Black and Hillary Clinton did is put on the table in a public discourse some of the gut realities of American politics -- the extent to which politicians are prepared, or cannot stop themselves from thinking of, those events which will secure their election.

Charles Black and Hillary Clinton, in "misspeaking," did us a service by focusing on the true issues of this election, issues that the pollsters often cannot reach. The force of those issues will only reveal themselves on election day.

Years ago, Philip Roth wrote Our Gang, describing the pettiness, dishonesty and criminal acts of President Nixon and the members of his administration. There was very little, Roth wrote, they would not say or do to keep in power. I remember speaking on his behalf to the publishers who were reluctant to publish because Roth was saying the unsayable, thinking the unthinkable. It turned out, of course, that his imagination ran ahead of reality -- subsequent events proved his imaginings to be correct.

Whether these words were the horrendous acts described by Hitler in Germany, or Nazis in Skokie, Illinois, or today's American politician, the airing of the truth of their thoughts is valuable.
Only then do we truly know what we are dealing with and what politics has driven people to think about.

At the end of the day, candidates and their handlers will evaluate the effect on the election of their horrendous words. If they find that the powerful images they have created stay in a citizen's mind, then we will see hear more about imagined horrors. These "misspoken" words reinforce the most powerful images that the politicians use to create fear.

What Charles Black and Hillary Clinton said were not "accidents" as they were in the past, the highest likelihood is that words like these will become the accepted political dialogue of the future.

America prides itself because our First Amendment permits us to say whatever we think. In many ways, that is the cause of some of America's greatness. Authoritarian and dictatorial governments ultimately cannot keep pace with America's creativity because of their restrictions on thought.

Although the media and politicians reacted with horror at what Charles Black and Hillary Clinton have said, I believe those fearful images ultimately help the candidate that articulates them. That is the sad truth of American politics.