Michelle Obama once called it "the ultimate fear bomb."
I'm writing, of course, about the paranoid, psychopathic behavior we've witnessed over the last two weeks from the Republican Party and its presidential candidates. Be it the fire-eyed rants from the cowardly shrieking eel named Sarah Palin, or the ignorant and naïve witch-hunters in line at various McCain rallies, or the sanctioned Republican Party conspiracy to turn Senator Obama into an Islamic terrorist, we've only begun to scratch the surface of what the far-right is capable of -- in broad daylight no less.
Remember the breathless, tinfoil hat attacks against President Clinton and Senator Clinton during the 1990s? Fun times compared to what's surely on the way if Senator Obama wins this thing. I think we can agree that the last couple of weeks have made the far-right anti-Clinton attacks of the '90s seem quaint by comparison.
Here's this particular Republican fear bomb works. 1) The McCain campaign, the Republican Party and its supporters are systematically spreading the notion that Senator Obama is somehow a terrorist sympathizer -- and therefore a de facto terrorist. 2) America is presently engaged in a shooting war against terrorists. 3) Therefore, by extrapolation, they're allowing their more unhinged followers to imply that we're in a shooting war against Senator Obama.
And we're not just hearing this from the usual wackaloons and hoopleheads, either. This game is quite literally being played by both the legitimate Republican Party, along with the Republican nominees for president and vice president.
It began long ago, however, in that notorious "Who Is Barack Obama?" whisper e-mail and, as if on cue, the thoroughly debunked smears in the e-mail bled out to far-right talkers like Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh. In June of 2007, for example, Coulter used an appearance on Hannity & Colmes to say, "I think anyone named B. Hussein Obama should avoid using "hijack" and "religion" in the same sentence." Funny! And she punctuated it with, "Get ready for President Hussein!" This from a woman who wished for the New York Times building to be bombed by terrorists.
Elsewhere, Rush Limbaugh's participation has involved everything from the possibly drug-induced yet deliberate "Osama-Obama" mispronunciation, to his present day and inexplicable "Arab-African" label for the senator's heritage. The truth is that Limbaugh is more "Arab-African" than Senator Obama.
Back in February, FOX News Channel posted a poll question wondering, "Who Is Usama Rooting For?" You can probably guess how FOX News viewers responded. It goes without saying that the point wasn't literally to determine Bin Laden's voting preference, but rather to nefariously link Senator Obama and Bin Laden.
Now, you might be thinking -- yeah, typical FOX News. Not so fast. Here's the very serious former CNN and current ABC News talking head Jeff Greenfield:
Greenfield compared the similarity of Obama's "business casual" clothing to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's "jacket-and-no-tie look." Greenfield concluded the segment by saying: "Now, it is one thing to have a last name that sounds like Osama and a middle name, Hussein, that is probably less than helpful. But an outfit that reminds people of a charter member of the axis of evil, why, this could leave his presidential hopes hanging by a thread."
Odd that we haven't heard from any of these wise men about all of the serial killers, maniacs and assassins who have been named "John," as in "John McCain." For the record, there's John Wilkes Booth, John Hinckley Jr., John Schrank (attempted to kill McCain's hero Teddy Roosevelt), John Wayne Gacy, Paul John Knowles, John Allen Muhammad (DC Sniper terrorist), John Edward Robinson (the Cyber Sex Killer), Gerard John Schaefer (killed 34 women and girls in Florida), John Gotti, John Dillinger and John George Haigh (the UK's 'Acid Bath Murderer').
There was time, you know, when the McCain campaign outright rejected this tactic, most notably when Senator McCain repudiated talk radio host Bill Cunningham's "Hussein" rant last February. But now, with his poll numbers collapsing, it's become a desperate and necessary part of the McCain's schizoid strategem. Now, months later, and just as TPM"s Josh Marshall accurately predicted at the time, the McCain campaign is "relying on hundreds of Cunninghams -- large and small."
That leads us to Sarah Palin, who is somehow regarded as fearless and "barracuda-ish" even though she's absolutely terrified to appear in a televised press conference. Quite a pit bull, no? Lobbing shots from a position of safety. Brave of her. Nevertheless, there she was on stage making sure to perfectly enunciate the words "palling around with... domestic! terrorists!" With this prepared remark, the Straight Talk Express officially jumped the median and landed squarely in the twisted, lunatic fringe world of Limbaugh, Coulter and Cunningham.
At no other time has this wicked transformation from maverick to maniac been more obvious than when Senator McCain himself literally quoted the title of the original Andy Martin whisper e-mail. McCain, speaking to his supporters last week, looked directly into the television cameras and spoke the words, "Who is Barack Obama?" Talk about a dog whistle for every paranoid hoople who received that whisper e-mail.
And today, on the heels of repeated outbursts of "kill him" and "off with his head" at various McCain campaign rallies, the Sacramento County Republican Party website was forced to remove a graphic that links Senator Obama to Osama Bin Laden and demands that the Illinois senator and Democratic nominee for president -- and not the al-Qaeda leader -- be waterboarded. Waterboarded! And Senator McCain has audacity to suggest that Congressman John Lewis's statement was the worst thing he's ever heard? Seriously?
Yet as if trapped on the surface of some kind of grotesque Mobius Loop of Crazy, Senator McCain has repeatedly promised that in tonight's final nationally televised presidential debate he intends to bring up William Ayers -- hence perpetuating this dark, insane plot to turn one of our generation's most inspiring and promising leaders into a terrorist -- and therefore someone we are at war with -- someone who our most vocal political leaders have pledged to kill or capture.
So where's the establishment press in all of this? Rather than joining together and outting this tactic for what it is -- the inadvertent fomenting of an assassination attempt -- they're preoccupied with the political theater of it all. Is this good for McCain? Is the tactic working? Will it swing the polls back in McCain's favor? Why should we be surprised, though? After all, early this year, TIME Magazine's very serious Mark Halperin posted a series of recommendations for the McCain campaign in preparation for the race against Senator Obama. Among them: "6. Allow some supporters to risk being accused of using the race card when criticizing Obama." Smart! But the most obnoxious item on the list was number 11:
Emphasize Barack Hussein Obama's unusual name and exotic background through a Manchurian Candidate prism.
And there you go. The past, sadly enough, appears to be prologue. Hang on tight.