Editorial: Anger stains campaign

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

It's a ritual in this country that during election seasons, we don mental armor against the inevitable onslaught of negative campaign ads.

While very few, if any, Americans would admit to liking attack ads, so would few Americans deny that they work. In that sense, we’ve come to regard them as part of the process.

Negative ads are clearly protected by the First Amendment, and if a candidate attempts to inaccurately smear an opponent’s record, there are plenty of avenues for response.

But there is a line between attack ads that seek to damage a candidate politically and those that seek to whip up fear and hostility against a candidate personally. We won’t attempt to define that line, but we believe the McCain/Palin presidential campaign leaped over it in the last week. The tenor of Sarah Palin’s stump speeches and the McCain campaign’s now relentless use of the word “terrorist” strike us not as merely a campaign getting more aggressive.

These are signals of a campaign intent on preying on Americans’ fears — of terrorism, of a collapsing economy, of an uncertain future in global affairs — to generate hostility toward Barack Obama personally.

Consider the introduction McCain and Palin received at a rally last week in Pennsylvania: “Think about how you’ll feel on November 5 if you wake up in the morning and see the news, that Barack Obama — that Barack Hussein Obama — is the president-elect of the United States,” said Lehigh County Republican Chairman Bill Platt to a crowd of 6,000 in Bethlehem. Platt invoked Obama’s middle name twice in his speech, according to the Washington Post.

A few days earlier, Palin had told a crowd in Florida that Obama “is someone who sees America as imperfect enough to pal around with terrorists who targeted their own country.”

On Thursday, the McCain campaign debuted a new ad that opens, “Barack Obama and domestic terrorist Bill Ayers. Friends. They’ve worked together for years.”

Hmm. Hussein. Terrorist. Hussein. Terrorist. Might there be a subliminal message here? If so, it is working among the faithful at campaign rallies.

After covering one Palin event in Florida last week, The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank reported: “In Clearwater, arriving reporters were greeted with shouts and taunts by the crowd of about 3,000 ...”

When Palin mentioned the “mainstream media,” “... Palin supporters turned on reporters in the press area, waving thunder sticks and shouting abuse. Others hurled obscenities at a camera crew. One Palin supporter shouted a racial epithet at a black sound man for a network and told him, ‘Sit down, boy.’”

It’s appropriate for the atmosphere of political rallies to be charged with excitement. But they shouldn’t be charged with hate, and increasingly that is the direction the McCain camp seemed to heading.

By late last week, even McCain recognized this was becoming a problem. When a supporter at a Minnesota event said he feared what might happen in an Obama presidency, McCain described his opponent as a “decent person and a person that you do not have to be scared of as president of the United States.”

McCain’s attempt at conciliation drew boos from his crowd.

To McCain’s credit, he kept up the conciliatory tone at an event Saturday in Davenport, Iowa, telling the crowd that America wants its leaders “to sit down together, Republican and Democrat, to work through this terrible time of crisis.” Even Sarah Palin softened her rhetoric, avoiding the terrorist theme entirely in a speech in Pennsylvania.

We hope this signifies a turning point in the campaign’s tone and focus.

The ever-intensifying angry, personal tone of this campaign is not befitting a senator with as distinguished a career or a man who has proved his strength of character as has John McCain.

These days, fear is dirt cheap and in plentiful supply in America. It’s not a commodity in which anyone seeking this country’s highest office should traffic.

The State Journal-Register