There are so many metaphors that could aptly describe the manic passion that is being displayed at rallies for John McCain this past week.
The only one I can think of is also my greatest fear.
I have a deep-seated fear of fire. I believe it's called "pyrophobia", as that term seems to make the most sense. I can't deal with being around it, I dread extreme heat - even if it's from a hot cup of cocoa. Perhaps it stems from lighting my father's gas stove with matches to start the flame that would never catch on its own. Or how I always feared it might one day claim my uncle, one of Pittsburgh's Bravest. Or from a moment 25 years past, as I waited for the Statue of Liberty ferry and a woman standing in line with us accidentally burned my forearm with her cigarette.
I'm getting over it, slowly if not steadily; my uncle's retired, the scar on my forearm has long healed and my lady is certainly happy that I can stand being around a stove again and can help with the cooking. But the point of the matter is that every time that burner is lit, I still feel the fear.
Fire is perhaps the angriest of God's many creations. Think of it - in a way, it does what the Sun does, at the most microcosmic level, alternately destructive or soothing - depending upon the context. But what makes it most disconcerting to me is how similar fire is to we humans. It feeds on oxygen, but it likes to consume all it can until it realizes, too late, that the air is what's most important; it feeds on whatever it can to grow; and in those dread moments in which it is most desperately fighting for its survival, it is at its fiercest. As Robert DeNiro's character in Backdraft, Shadow, said about the "animal", it burns, it eats, and it hates.
You need evidence? Well, let me invite you to a McCain/Palin rally.
"Traitor!" "Terrorist!" "Kill him!" "Bomb Obama!"
In the most irresponsible politics I've seen since Jesse Helms' "White Hands" ad, John McCain and Sarah Palin have given a new meaning to "scorched-earth campaigning". The sickness and divisiveness is evident on the surface, but there's something much more troubling to all this.
It's been articulated upon by many this week, but most of all, Ta-Nehisi Coates sees it:
But I've been thinking about this McCain-Palin Obama "palling around with terrorist" idea more lately. The saddest thing about many Republicans isn't just that they disagree with liberals on race--it's they are largely ignorant on race. When the McCain campaign cast the spell of diabolical jingoism, they have no idea of the forces they are toying with. We remember Martin Luther King's murder as a sad and tragic event. Less remembered is the fact that ground-work for King's murder was seeded, not simply by rank white supremacy, but by people who slandered King as a communist.
Let me be clear--This is the ghost that McCain Campaign is summoning. This is the Ring Of Power that they want to wield. The Muslim charge, the "Hussein" thing is nothing more than today's red-baiting, and it is what it was then--a cover for racists.
We've known that the "Obama's a secret Muslim" and "uppity" stuff was cover for "NIGGER" for the longest. But when I hear people like this, I know that it's only a matter of time. Frankly, there have been too many Americans who find it socially permissible to treat other Americans - Barack Obama included - as if they're second-class, and somehow beneath them. (All while calling guys like Obama "elitists", ironically.)
Let's look at the less dangerous aspects for a moment, and consider the brutal irony. McCain's slogan is "Country First", yet he's proven that he's willing to exploit its divisions in order to win the presidency. McCain says that it's Obama that has the blind ambition; so says the guy who's running for this job for the second time and is willing to adopt the sinful tactics of those that defeated him eight years ago to get the job done. McCain is even trying to say now that it's Obama that's going negative. Projection, anyone?
That said, the seriousness of the situation goes well beyond politics. The verdict seems to be in - the Ayers attacks are not working. I take it a step beyond where brother Coates brought it. While I think McCain and Palin are more ignorant than willfully racist, I do believe that they couldn't give one fresh damn about the behavior that their tactics (not strategy!) inspire. I believe this is a willful act on their part, starting a fire they could not control, if only it'd land them in the White House.
In McCain's moment of desperation, he invites his base to release its inner fire, without regard for what that fire burns, eats and destroys. I can't think of anything more reckless; it makes his stunts look harmless and Hillary Clinton's "RFK" remark during the primary sound like a sweet whisper in Obama's ear.
The thing that I'm most reminded of when I see footage from these rallies is, frankly, a lynch mob. Not the actual mob, per se - but this is how it starts. With a rallying cry here or there, or a bold word that breathes more oxygen into the fire.
"Traitor!" "Terrorist!" "Kill him!" "Bomb Obama!"
Make no mistake. These rallies are going to drive someone to violence, whether it be against Obama directly or one of his supporters. Perhaps the media. Someone is going to get hurt.
But damn it all if McCain can get elected, right? At least Bush depended upon the courts and his connections to do his dirty work. McCain's asking Joe Sixpack.
Apparently, this has gotten serious enough that the Secret Service is looking into it. They should. (Consider: a presidential candidate's rallies are inviting the attention of the Secret Service - in the interest of said candidate's opponent.) All it takes is one nut, people; driven to excessive paranoia by the rhetoric of a political troll intent on little other than his own self-aggrandizement.
The last word you should use is "unbelievable". In America, you can't get any more real than this. The fire's been let loose, folks, and even Obama's election in three weeks won't put it out. It's all about fear, and the fire that spreads it.
It burns, it eats, and it hates.
The fire burns Michelle Obama - sort of:
The McCain campaign is now broadening their attack on Obama's past association with William Ayers to include Michelle Obama -- even though McCain has repeatedly said spouses should be off limits during the campaign.
The attack? Bernardine Dohrn, Ayers' wife and fellow former Weatherman, went to work in 1984 for the major Chicago-based national law firm of Sidley & Austin, and three years later, Michelle joined the mega-firm as well.
That's the entire attack. We wish we were joking. But we aren't.