Poor ACORN. The social-justice organization has been an unfortunate victim of John McCain's inflammatory tactics.
The poster child for a GOP-invented voter-registration fraud, ACORN is this election's lanky geek who's being bloodied and brutalized by the puffed-up neighborhood bullies. And as The Huffington Post reports,the bullies are feeling dangerously emboldened.
Not only have at least two of its offices been vandalized in recent weeks, but ACORN has also been the recipient of extremely disturbing e-mails and voicemails that can only be attributed to Real Americans. You know, the ones Sarah Palin is talkin' to and, also, winkin' at, the ones who reside in the “pockets” of Real America. Because those of us Fake Americans in the Fake America? We don't believe in hate speech or intimidation as a means to an end.
The e-mails to ACORN contained, among other things, a threat to the life of a manager and a directive that all “blue gums” and “porch monkeys” high-tail it back to Africa. Alas, the voicemails weren't any subtler. One caller's favorite word rhymed with a comparative form of the adjective “big,” and she spoke of things other than acorns that she hoped would hang from oak trees. I heard her; she was horrid.
Thankfully, the Internet is available in both Americas so we can come together as one, listen to these comments and be not the least bit confused as to how far we still have to go in this diverse nation.
Given this country's violent racial history and the fact that we are one swing-state combo away from electing a black man to lead us out of this morass, it's not shocking that racism would become a flashpoint in this election. But the fact that a candidate would intentionally incite the bigoted few—and not be widely condemned for it—is appalling.
After the second presidential debate, I asked readers of my blog whether they felt McCain's reference to Obama as “that one” was a racially charged remark. Though a few people expressed concern that it might be, the overwhelming opinion was that he is just an out-of-touch geezer. I happen to disagree with this naïve assessment: I believe his remark was specifically intended to degrade Obama, a belief that's been underscored by unfolding events. Given the kinds of statements he and his representatives had been making up until that night, I had little doubt that calling Obama “that one” was an effort to delineate him—and, in effect, other brown people—as an “other” to be feared.
While McCain and his pathological liar of a running mate haven't themselves uttered obvious words of racism, they have smilingly relied on coded language. They've used words—and combinations of them—with double entendres nearly as indiscernible as a dog whistle when taken individually. But collectively they're as plain as the melanoma scar on McCain's jaw.
McCain the Matador waved his red flag before the glazed-over eyes of the smoldering bull with sneering references to “community organizing.” And the bull was frenzied by the time the candidate offered his pre-debate battle cry of, “I'm gonna whip his you-know-what!” An interesting choice of words, given historical context, and I would argue this was not accidental.
Meanwhile, when asked why he does not immediately denounce unsavory outbursts at his rallies, McCain blinks and clenches and takes the I-have-no-idea-what-you're-talking-about approach.
To be fair, he did attempt to correct a few bigots at one of his rallies. But he didn't go far enough. McCain stood down when he had an opportunity to stand for something. He could have publicly stated that further outbursts would be met with expulsion from events. He could have publicly stated that Arab-Americans and Muslim-Americans are, in fact, Americans. He could have publicly stated that there is no room for bigotry and hate in civil discourse. He could have publicly stated that lawyers will address any wrongdoing at ACORN but the death threats and vile accusations toward the organization, it's workers, it's beneficiaries and, yes, his opponent must absolutely, unequivocally, immediately stop.
He could have led, but he didn't.
In contrast, upon hearing his supporters boo his opponent during a speech on Oct. 21, Obama told the crowd, calmly but firmly, “No, no, we don't need that. We need you to vote.” Certainly, not an issue as inflammatory as the one created and perpetuated by McCain, but Obama's already been tested in this way.
Time journalist Joe Klein recently asked Obama about his gut feeling on dealing with the explosive remarks of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Obama said, “My gut was telling me that this was a teachable moment and that if I tried to do the usual political damage control instead of talking to the American people like an adult—like they were adults and could understand the complexities of race—that I would be not only doing damage to the campaign but missing an important opportunity for leadership.”
This was no gut feeling that put us in an endless war or gave us an unqualified nominee for vice president. No indeed. From this gut feeling came one of the most important and meaningful speeches on race that I've ever heard anyone deliver in my lifetime. Apparently, those Real Americans who called ACORN with their snippets of wisdom missed it.
The next four years will hold many opportunities for leadership, one of them being bridging the chasm between Real and Fake America. The choice couldn't be more obvious. To paraphrase the conservative writer Andrew Sullivan, Obama is the future and we must decide if the future will begin Nov. 5.