Yesterday, John McCain, rather than responding to the factual claims regarding his involvement in the Keating 5 scandal, engaged in the lowest form of argument. Ad Hominem attack, attacking the man, rather than the question at hand, is now the centerpiece of John McCain's bid for the presidency. The weekend leading up to tonight's debate was awash in shadowy inferences and attempts to indict Obama's character on the basis of his casual associations. We expect this in the death throes of a Rove-style elections race don't we? Well this time McCain has crossed a line.
McCain's exact quote in reference to the Keating 5 Scandal: "I guess he [Obama] believes if a lie is big enough and repeated often enough it will be believed."
I was immediately struck by the familiarity of this quote and my co-worker, Ricky Garner, (who was reading the same story) reminded me why I knew the line. It wasn't a quote by a memorable American President or a great scholar. McCain was plagiarizing Hitler's right-hand man Joseph Goebbels.
In fact, one of two very disturbing things has just occurred. Either McCain compared Obama to the notorious Nazi, Joseph Goebbels, or McCain is so intimate with Goebbels' writings that he did not realize he was quoting the infamous propagandist. Either way, I am horrified.
The original quote by Joseph Goebbels is:
"If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it."
McCain must apologize to Obama and to those who know first hand that one ought never be flippant about the Holocaust. McCain's cheap words trivialize the murder of millions whose fate was hidden and marginalized by the propaganda machine of Joseph Goebbels.
In the spirit of McCain's despicable allusion, it is important to see the context from which the quote was taken. The next line of the quote:
"The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the life. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its power to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State."
This description of propaganda is much closer to the disinformation techniques of Neo-Conservatives that are directing the McCain campaign. An advertisement ran last week on the popular conservative newsite NEWSMAX.com, from The National Republican Trust PAC outlining the strategy McCain and others should pursue to discredit Barack Obama. What the advertisement calls the "Hilary strategy" is to put Obama's name next to inflammatory names such as Hamas, Louis Farrakhan, and Rev. Wright, as well as William Ayers.
It is interesting how a supposed independent PAC seems to be writing John McCain's script. The Campaign Finance Reformer is using groups like this, and that are below the mainstream media's radar, to inflame racial stereotypes and scare voters. Relying on these direct mailing smear tactics developed famously by Karl Rove shows McCain to be nothing more than the successor to George W. Bush's politics of fear. Like Cheney, and Bush before him, the McCain campaign is shaping up to reduce voter decision-making to its lowest common denominator. Be afraid, be very afraid... Vote for US or else!
In a race where real ideological differences exist, differences of substance, McCain has decided that his beliefs are not as important as power. And that power requires reducing the majority of the American public to a trembling mass, while repressing and intimidating those who attempt to stand up for change. We have seen these tactics before. Tragically, in the past they have worked. Other craven men, such as John McCain, have cashed in on our collective feelings of vulnerability. Bush successfully manipulated us to invade Iraq, by covering over the absence of Weapons Mass Destruction or connection to al-Qaeda, with a frenzy of vague unsubstantiated threats. Bush, Cheney, Rove, and Rumsfeld refined the very strategy that McCain is pursuing. In fact, the same racial strategies were used.
First, blame 911 on radical Muslims (being sure not to condemn all of Islam, while also not being too specific about who the enemy is). Then, play on misunderstandings of global politics and racial-religious connections knowing that, in a time of national panic, the public will not look too closely at facts and evidence. After 9/11, that meant visually representing racial and cultural similarities of al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein while telling 'Big Lies' about the actual connections between the two.
The result is a kind of argument that survives logical scrutiny. People begin to believe a kind of organic or primordial relationship between all Muslims, such that al-Qaeda and Iraq are presumed to have a connection, even if all of the 'evidence' used to demonstrate that connection are falsified in public. Belief, in times of fear, is much more powerful than evidence, even overwhelming evidence. Nothing could be more telling of this than the number of people who still say when polled that they think Iraq had Weapons of Mass Destruction.
McCain is attempting to do the same thing: mention Rev. Wright, Bill Ayers, and Black Nationalists (such as Louis Farrakhan) in the same sentence with Obama, over and over again. Every once in a while make a direct accusation, such as Obama "pals around with terrorists". Then, continue the repetition of negative associations and more subtle ad hominem attacks via unaccountable and un-reviewed sources (such as direct-mailings, news radio hosts, and author-less internet ads). In the end, the hope of the McCain campaign (as was the hope of Bush campaign) is that those buried in negative associational images and accusation will be unable to let go of their 'belief' that there is, as the NEWSMAX add says, "little doubt that William Ayers and Louis Farrakhan and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright are rooting for Obama -- because he is one of them."
The 'them' McCain's allies refer to ought to be conspicuous to anyone whose reasoning faculty has survived the deluge of rumors and fear-mongering. They mean discontent black men. They hope that enough repetition will make you unable to see anything in Obama that does not relate to the negative stereotypes of his skin color. McCain, a man once known for his integrity, has (as a friend recently said to me), "sold his soul for parts" and adopted a strategy of race-baiting. Apparently, McCain does not care what kind of long-term damage racial divisiveness like this can cause. McCain cannot be allowed to hide behind surrogates or claim ignorance. Others may be writing the racial script, but it is McCain and Palin who are reading it in speeches and at press conferences.
Americans deserve more from their national leaders because, in fact, this is a time of crisis. People are again scared: for their jobs, their families, their retirement, and their homes. For this, McCain only offers more fear and scapegoats to blame. It is about time that McCain takes responsibility for this campaign and engages the issues that define this critical moment in American history.