Between traveling to various cities for my various jobs, I don't get to spend a lot of time in front of the tube. So I was relatively late to cotton on to the alarming and not-so-subtle change in atmosphere at the Republican presidential Klanvokations — oops, rallies.
Then, two people I respect got my attention. One is a remarkable man, a U.S. Air Force colonel, now retired, named Colin Chauret. He lives in Texas, and is a renowned fighter pilot who served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
You might think with that pedigree, Chauret would be a Dubya supporter all the way. Think again: This fighter pilot really does have the eyes of an eagle. He is an authentic American patriot who didn't think he dropped his right to think when he earned his wings. For years, he has been arguing that the Shrub needed to be impeached. But George W. Bush will be a toxic remembrance in a little over three months, and now the colonel is angry about something else.
From his e-mail to me: "Watching McCain [incite] his audience to scream and hold up signs indicating Barack Obama is a 'TERRORIST' and 'KILL HIM,' with a smirk on his face, has to be a new low for anyone running for president. If, God forbid, some crazy out there is [impelled] to assassinate Obama due to this negative campaigning of both McCain and Palin, his blood will be on their hands."
The same day, I got a call from state Rep. Steve Bieda (D-Warren), one of the Legislature's brighter lights, who, thanks to the destructive force of term limits, has to leave in January.
Bieda, by the way, is the guy who, more than a year ago, introduced some bills that might have made Kwame Kilpatrick's efforts to cling onto his job a little harder.
The bills were designed to force public officials to file detailed records with the Secretary of State's office outlining how they spend their campaign funds. Additionally, they specified the appropriate use of legal defense funds. For one thing, they could only be used for — imagine this — attorney and administrative fees. Not, that is, mass mailings or junkets with Carmen Slowski. To nobody's great surprise, many of his fellow lawmakers weren't too hot to move on exposing their own secrets.
Then came Kwamegate. Versions of the bills were then urgently moved through Lansing. But, alas, too late. The contributors to Kwame's fund were allowed, Bieda told me, to remain anonymous.
Anybody from Warren knows something about rough-and-tumble hardball politics. But Bieda has been shaken by what he's has seen lately at GOP rallies, especially Palin's.
"I don't know whether they are deliberately trying for this, or whether these are the only kind of people left that they can attract," since they have no positive message on the economic disaster or how to get ourselves out of it. His deepest fear is the same as a lot of people's: What if somebody is inspired to shoot Barack Obama?
Rest assured — John McCain does not want that. He may have given up his integrity and sold his soul to the Bushies, but he isn't evil and knows an assassination would guarantee a Democratic landslide. Yet he — and his pet Alaskan killer weasel — may have unleashed something they'll have a hard time putting back in the bottle. The other day, a bit concerned, McCain tried to pull back, telling supporters: "He is a decent person, and a person you don't have to be scared [of] as president."
McCain looked startled as his own crowd loudly and savagely booed him. Earlier, at the same Minnesota rally, a woman said she didn't trust the Democratic nominee because "I have read about him and he's an Arab." McCain's response was nearly as bizarre: "No ma'am, no ma'am. He's a decent family man." One suspects a few Arab-Americans who consider themselves decent family men might not have been thrilled by that answer.
Trouble is, there is something dark, evil and ugly lurking in this nation, and politics sometimes brings it out — at its worst. Forty years ago that thing left Martin Luther King Jr. sprawled on a balcony and Robert F. Kennedy on the floor of a hotel kitchen.
Now John McCain has chosen a silly, ignorant and reckless young woman for national office, who may not understand the fire she is playing with. Obama, Sarah Palin tells crowds, "is palling around with terrorists." The Democratic nominee "is not a man who sees America the way you and I see America." True, vice presidents from the time of Richard M. Nixon have often been used as attack dogs to slander and smear their opponents. But not to endanger their lives.
McCain, who was being tortured for his country when the dogs of hate killed Martin and Bobby, knows better. Yet his campaign put out a nasty and dangerously nutty press release last week, which had some man claiming "Barack Obama's friend tried to kill my family," a reference, of course, to former Weather Underground member William Ayers. Friend would appear to be stretching it.
The two men lived in the same neighborhood in Chicago many years later, and once served on a charity board together. They don't seem to have hung out. Ayers' terrorist past happened, by the way, when Obama was 8, and living in Hawaii and Indonesia.
Yet somewhere in a ratty apartment somewhere, those words may have been heard or read by a 24-year-old misfit with a chip on his shoulder, no girlfriend and a gun. That's pretty much the profile of Lee Harvey Oswald, John Hinckley and Sirhan Sirhan and — the list goes on and on and on.
Last week, at a rally in Pennsylvania, a county Republican chairman got the animals stirred up before McCain and Palin came on stage. "Think of how you'll feel on Nov. 5 if you wake up and see the news that Barack Obama — that's Barack Hussein Obama — is the president-elect of the United States," one Bill Platt bellowed.
Later, when the cameras were gone, a McCain flack called those comments "inappropriate rhetoric." So here are some appropriate words: Let's hope that after he is defeated, McCain reflects on what he did to himself in this campaign. And that, before he dies, he realizes that he didn't have to become what he became.
What the civilized folks think: I am indebted to the perceptive Oakland County activist Eileen Liska, who sent me a piece from The (Manchester) Guardian, indicating how the British saw the vice presidential debate. "Evidently, Palin's pre-debate handlers judged her incapable of speaking on a wide range of subjects, and so instructed her to simply disregard questions that did not invite memorized talking points or cutesy filibustering. ...
"Palin is a woman who can't even tell the truth about the most quotidian and public details about her own life, never mind about matters of major public import. That her performance was considered anything but a farce doesn't show how high Palin has risen, but how low we all have sunk."
By the way, in what would be a scandal in normal times, the Associated Press revealed that since she took office as Alaska's governor in January 2007, Palin and her family have spent more than $13,000 in taxpayer money to attend religious events and meetings, including one with the son of evangelical preacher Billy Graham.
No wonder she winks at us.Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org