Saturday, October 18, 2008

McCain-Palin Getting Mavericky by Invoking Politics of Nixon-Rove-Bush

The American Heritage Dictionary, a source that even Sarah Palin would have a difficult time condemning as anti-American, defines "maverick" as "one who refuses to abide by the dictates of [their] group; a dissenter." As Karl Marx did with Hegel's philosophy, Palin has turned the definition of "maverick" on its proverbial head, declaring herself and John McCain to be mavericks as a consequence of their eschewing of moderate politics for the adoption of the politics of the far right--or, worse yet, no discernible governing philosophy at all.

At the beginning of the final month of campaigning, with the McCain-Palin ticket floundering, Governor Palin ratcheted up her sophomoric campaign stump pablum by injecting into the monologue accusations that Barack Obama is anti-American and a terrorist sympathizer.

The tactic is not new, of course, dating back at least to the 1940s when Republicans, weary of their long run outside the White House, groped for a fear tactic that would play to the uninformed.

In the 1940s and 1950s, Republicans, led by congressional candidate then Vice Presidential candidate Richard Nixon, propagated the notion that the country was being undermined by communist subversives in the democratic White House. In the absence of cable television and internet, two prodigious means for responding to unfounded political attacks, Nixon and other Republicans were able to paint Harry Truman, Adlai Stevenson, and other respectable politicians as un-American.

Nixon continued with this ploy in 1960, when he unsuccessfully ran for President against John Kennedy and, again, when running for President against Hubert Humphrey in 1968 and when attempting to dismiss Daniel Ellsberg's revelation of the Pentagon Papers.

From 1968 to 1992, Republicans controlled the White House for all but the four years of the Carter Administration. That control led to an abatement of sorts of the type of desperate campaigning that Nixon had championed within his Party for nearly four decades.

That changed in 1992 when, saddled with a bad economy, George H.W. Bush found himself mired in a tight race against a theretofore unknown in Bill Clinton. Late in the campaign, desperation oozing from his every pore, President Bush referred to Governor Clinton and his running mate, Senator Al Gore, as "those two clowns," and referred to Governor Clinton as "Bozo the Clown."

The tactic backfired for President Bush for several reasons. First, it came too late in the campaign to be effective. Second, it came off as a subjective, non-substantive criticism. And, third, President Bush did not provide substantive follow-up.

Republicans learned their lesson eight years later, however, when George W. Bush ran against Vice President Gore. Republicans, led by campaign strategist Karl Rove, pounded on the theme that Vice President Gore was going to milk the rich and give to the undeserving poor, that Gore was a "tree-hugger." "Watch your wallet!" was the rallying cry for Republicans and it worked because Vice President Gore refused to respond to the rallying cry and even fed the notion.

In 2002, Republicans again relied on the anti-tax rallying cry, despite sponsoring a candidate committed to policies that effectuated significant tax increases for the vast majority of Americans, and enlisted the aid of media conglomerates such as Rupert Murdoch's Fox Network to paint John Kerry as un-American. "Is John Kerry too French?" Fox reporters repeatedly asked as they led into their "news" of the day.

Not only was Kerry not "too French" he was and remains not at all French, in any sense of the word. But, understanding the willingness of Americans to dislike the French and for many of those same Americans to dislike anyone who does not share their same unfounded bigotries, FOX and the Republican Party, led by Karl Rove, were able to perpetuate an image of Senator Kerry as un-American. That Senator Kerry failed even to attempt to repudiate the association further reinforced the notion.

Borrowing from the Nixon-Rove line of campaigning that undermined the candidacies of Stevenson, Humphrey, Gore, Kerry, and others, Governor Palin, clearly at the behest of Karl Rove and his associates, continues to suggest that Senator Obama is un-American, calling into question his acquaintanceship with Bill Ayers, a 1960s radical. Though Senator Obama's association to Mr. Ayers is limited to his inclusion on a public education board on which Mr. Ayers also serves and to one campaign event at Mr. Ayers' home nearly forty years after Mr. Ayers' radical activities--activities that both Mr. Ayers and Senator Obama have denounced, Governor Palin continues to rely on this limited and contemporary association to portray Senator Obama as un-American and as a terrorist.

That's Nixon-Rove politics. It's the politics of fear-mongering over the politics of substance. And it is far from a "maverick" style of politics.

Where Governor Palin deserves some credit for being a maverick is not in how she or her running mate are conducting their campaign, but in her affiliation with a Party seeking independence for the State of Alaska. The Alaskan Independence Party, a Party with whose members Governor Palin clearly has palled around, given that her husband is an on-again, off-again member of the Party and that Governor Palin, herself, has attended several Party conventions as a speaker, represents the type of anti-Americanism for which Governor Palin is so far reaching to associate Senator Obama in a last, clearly desperate attempt to win a losing proposition.

If there is any anti-American sentiment at the top of the campaign tickets this election year, that sentiment seems far more compelling coming from the Palins' association with the Alaskan Independence Party than does it coming from Senator Obama's meager connection to a reformed radical. That's not what McCain-Palin-Rove want voters to believe, but, as Senator McCain is wont to say, "the proof is in the pudding."

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