Webster's Dictionary defines a demagogue as "a leader who obtains power by means of impassioned appeals to the emotions and prejudices of the populace." Governor Palin, in her stump speeches this week, fits this dictionary definition. Palin falsely and despicably portrays Senator Obama as a terrorist sympathizer or perhaps even a terrorist himself because he served on the board of a Chicago educational reform organization with Bill Ayers. Palin does not tell her crowds that Senator Obama was a child when Ayers was involved in anti-Vietnam war bombings and that Senator Obama has condemned such activities. This "guilt by association" smear is designed to appeal to the emotions of Americans who are fearful of more terrorist attacks from Middle Eastern terrorists, hence her rallies also emphasize Senator Obama's middle name.
Palin is appealing to long standing nativist prejudices -- the fear of the stranger in our midst. Obama is not like "us" according to McCain-Palin and "us" is a code word for the "white" descendants of European immigrants. In their worldview, Obama is not like "us" because he is of mixed racial heritage and as a young boy; he lived in a predominantly Muslim country. His schooling in Indonesia has been falsely described as a madrassa and many e-mail chain letters have warned people that Obama is a secret Muslim. Of course, this makes him even more suspect because many Americans foolishly believe that all Muslims are terrorists.
Palin claims that Obama is un-American because he does not see the country as she and her followers do. But according to news reports, Governor Palin and her husband have held recent memberships in the Alaskan Independence Party, a group working for the secession of Alaska from America. Could not such a recent association be fairly deemed to be un-American?
Palin is a demagogue because she is stirring up emotional fears, hatred, and prejudice in the electorate solely for her own political gain. All Americans of good conscience need to speak out against what she is doing, most importantly Senator McCain. We have seen vicious demagogues in our country in the past, but they wore pants and their power was limited because they were governors of a few southern states and a senator from the Upper Midwest. The only candidate for the second highest national office we have seen before that was even close to Sarah Palin was Spiro Agnew. But his rhetoric against the "nattering nabobs of negativism" was not really dangerous unlike the hateful personal attacks on Senator Obama by the skirt wearing Palin.
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