So, this is the legacy you want, John McCain?
You did not start the race division between the Republican and Democratic Parties, but you are feeding it generously. We can most likely find its birth in the moments after Lyndon Johnson had addressed Congress, advocating for the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and uttering three words that transformed the political divide for the next 43 years.
He looked out at his colleagues and the nation and said, “We shall overcome.” [ LBJ video ] How’s that for guts? Could you have mustered such courage?
It didn’t take long for the Republican Party to take advantage of the racist backlash Johnson’s bold statement had caused in the once “Solid South.” Up to that point nearly every southerner had been a Democrat because of racism, since the defeated South had succumbed under a Republican President, Abraham Lincoln, whose worst ‘sin’ had been liberation of the nation’s slaves. [ Wikipedia ]
With local governments racist to the core, southern Democrats nevertheless could scarcely imagine embracing Republican beliefs.
South Carolina’s racist governor, Strom Thurmond, made the jump, in 1964, to the Republican Party [ About.com ] , which first didn’t know what to do with him, as the GOP had been dominated by moderate folks such as Nelson Rockefeller, Charles Percy, Edward Brooke, George Romney, Wayne Morse and Jacob Javits. [ American Prospect ]
By 1970 the Republicans knew exactly what to do with disgruntled southern Democrats, and Daniel Patrick Moynihan (yes, the late ‘liberal’ senator from New York), then a staff aide to Nixon, wrote him a memo in which he recommended Nixon adopt a policy of “benign neglect” of civil rights issues, leaving the slain Martin Luther King’s movement to carry on by itself, without presidential backing. [ Answers.com ]
This began Nixon’s opportunistic GOP campaign to politically ‘take over’ the South with his so-called ‘Southern Strategy.’ [ Washington Post ]
The GOP grip on the South was further cemented by the avuncular Ronald Reagan, who unashamedly announced his run for the presidency with a “state’s rights” speech in the small town of Philadelphia, Mississippi, infamously known as the scene of the vicious, terrorizing 1964 murder of three Civil Rights activists who had dared to drive south to register blacks to vote. [ Black America Today ]
Reagan gave us eight years of ‘welfare queen Cadillac’ [ Washington Monthly ] stories that led to the eventual end of federal public assistance for poor families — a policy destruction later sought and won by another southern governor, Bill Clinton. [ Washington Post ]
Republicans George Bush — both H.W. and W. — appointed right-wing justices [ TPM.com ] to the Supreme Court, which has delivered ever-growing racist decisions that weakened affirmative action, erased an African-American city’s gun-control laws, made school integration more difficult, and appointed an unelected George W. Bush president. [ Grolier ]
So now we have an inspirational African American running for president of these United States. He emanates wisdom, reflection and calm in the face of crises. He has organized a complex and brilliant campaign organization with its roots in communities, not board rooms. Bearing stellar academic credentials and an estimable record of private and public service [ Seattle Times ]; he has the unique ability to inject hope and steadfast faith into a nation haunted by doubt and growing despair.
With the economy hanging by a thread [ Akron Beacon-Journal ], thanks to years of unregulated Wall Street greed of the worst kind [ Mother Jones ]; Republicans now look to John McCain, heir to and admirer of past Republicans who cleverly drew their own so-called ‘race cards,’ which was particularly successful during the 1988 campaign of the current president’s father via his racist ‘Willie Horton’ ads. [ YouTube ]
This same John McCain, bearing few of the qualities we seek in a president, is grasping for anything to paint his opponent, who happens to have been born with deep brown skin, as an ‘elitist,’ a mere airhead ‘celebrity,’ who is ‘out of touch’ with the average citizen. [ CNN.com ]
And because he dared to say his face ‘doesn’t look like any of those other presidents on dollar bills,’ Barack Obama is now accused of himself ‘playing the race card’? [ Washington Post ]
How can a black man ‘play’ any kind of race card, when it is dealt to him every waking moment of every day; when he looks in the mirror in the morning, and when almost every white person he is near looks back at him with ‘that glance,’ which is more of a stare, that says, “What are you doing here?”.
He is black; McCain is not. And to inject race into any campaign is to insert a needle filled with poison used to infect the public with the racist elements that too many white citizens either have buried in our souls, or alive and flaming in daily thoughts and deeds.
McCain, once considered a ‘moderate maverick’ [ NY Times ] in the Republican Party, now seems just another cynical politician, who arranged a meeting for a criminal savings and loan executive with five United States senators [ Memphis Commercial-Appeal ], and who voted for a war when that action was exceedingly popular and knowingly wrong.
How will he react from his ‘Straight Talk Express’ seat when confronted with the well-established fact that at least one of his television ads is a cynical lie – the one in which the announcer states that Obama did not visit wounded soldiers in Germany, ‘because he could not bring a television camera with him’? [ Media Matters ]
How will he face his God and his conscience with his decision to allow vicious and racist attacks on an honorable man, who simply happens to have black skin?
Many of us, myself included, once thought of John McCain as an honorable man.
But when he tells an outright lie about his political opponent at this tenuous time in our nation’s history, when he gives the green light to television and radio commercials [ USA Today ] that belittle and disrespect a fellow public servant, when he seems to have sold his soul to win a prize; then he is not only not worthy of that prize, but he has also drug up from the slime of our past the one lasting evil stain on our national soul. And that act can only serve to divide us, when the need for unity is paramount.
It is not up to us to forgive his sin; it is up to him to absolve himself, and to refuse to rip this nation apart again, for the selfish sake of one more rich white man’s personal political gain.
You don’t need a flag pin to say “God Bless America.” But you should need decency and honor.
End this, Mr. McCain. Tell your crafty team that you’re better than the slime they’ve slopped on our kitchen tables and into our family rooms.
In the meantime, our hope is for a united country. And our prayer is “God help America. God be with Obama.”