Dissonance is the soundtrack of any faltering political campaign. Things get said to jar the ear and maybe shock the conscience. It grabs attention that reasonable coherence alone couldn't deliver. Sometimes it works. It did four years ago, when an incompetent president defeated his challenger by conjuring up fears and slanders that played into what was left of the electorate's 9/11 stupor. Look what it got us.
The re-elected incompetence proved worse than even George W. Bush's core supporters could imagine, now that he's officially less liked than Richard Nixon at his impeachable lowest. His heirs, Sarah Palin and John McCain, aren't proposing much more than a change of accents and actuarial risks in the White House even as the whole country begins to get a sense of what it must've been like to be in the New Orleans Superdome after Katrina. With all their chatter about cleaning Washington, the same Washington McCain spent the past 25 years furnishing, McCain and Palin sound like a pair of Hoovers vacuuming the luxury deck of the Titanic while it sinks. Since their poll numbers have been sinking along, they've reverted to conjuring fears and slanders of their own -- nothing unexpected, nothing we didn't see coming from reactionaries enraged at the notion of a black liberal with an African first name, an Arab middle name and a drumroll of a last name vaulting to their no-longer-white-only presidency.
Prepared for it or not, the flammable can burn. Palin rallies have become accelerants of inflammatory hate that, in Florida last week, turned dangerous when she linked Obama to Bill Ayers, the Chicago university professor whose Weather Underground organization set off a few bombs around 1970, when Obama was in elementary school. It's worth noting what's seldom said about those bombs: They were preceded by evacuation warnings and set off in the middle of the night in places like a deserted U.S. Capitol toilet. The only people killed were three Underground members who set one off accidentally in their basement. The bombs were intended to protest bombings in Vietnam and Cambodia, paid for by every American taxpayer and orchestrated by Palin pal Henry Kissinger, that massacred civilians at the rate of about 500 a day while terrorizing millions.
Anyway, all set up with her sordid little libel of Ayers, Palin went in for the payoff against Obama: "I'm afraid this is someone who sees America as imperfect enough to work with a former domestic terrorist who had targeted his own country." Someone yelled out, "Kill him!" Palin went on. When she sneered at the "kind of mainstream media," the crowd turned on reporters covering the event, firing epithets that included Jim Crow vocabulary directed at a black television crew member. The word "terrorist" also is being thrown around in reference to Obama. Palin and McCain have yet to condemn the goons. Their silence condones it. Let's not suggest that what spouts out of their rally props is out of their control. As David Gergen, the bipolar Republican and Democratic operative, put it on CNN on Thursday, "yes, you can" control it, "and it is up to Sarah Palin at her rally and for John McCain to tell her if she doesn't start doing this, to stop right there and take issue with what's been said."
But they haven't. More to the point: How could they not condemn the merest suggestion from their supporters, let alone an explicitly murderous threat, that Obama should be assassinated, when the prospects of an Obama assassination have been openly anguished over? "There is," The New York Times reported on its front page in February, "a hushed worry on the minds of many supporters of Senator Barack Obama, echoing in conversations from state to state, rally to rally: Will he be safe?" Not when his opponent's ticket puts a silencer on its own minimum standards of civility.
"And I am just so fearful," Palin could still say of Obama at the very same "Kill him!" rally in Jacksonville, "that this is not a man who sees America the way that you and I see America."
She's right. The America she sees, the America she wants, the America Bush transformed and the America Palin inflames at her rallies is not at all the way most of us see America. Nor is it the way most of the world had ever imagined America could become, though it's the kind of America the world, and most of us, have been enduring. The only thing to fear, is if that era were not to end come Election Day.