Forced to defend what should be reliable red state turf, John McCain and Sarah Palin finally showed up in North Carolina over the past few weeks. So far in October, the GOP running mates have appeared at four campaign rallies here. And in the wake of their visits, a string of election season crimes have occurred around the state involving violence, vandalism, and harassment.
First, a reporter was assaulted at a Palin rally held last Thursday at Elon College. Greenboro News & Record reporter Joe Killian was kicked to the ground by a Palin supporter as he was trying to interview protestors at the event who backed Barack Obama. From Joe's blog:
"Oh, you think that's funny?!" the large bearded man said. His face was turning red. "Yeah, that's real funny..." he said.
And then he kicked the back of my leg, buckling my right knee and sending me sprawling onto the ground.
An MSNBC sound technician was hit in the head by a rock thrown by another Palin supporter at this same rally.
Next, over the weekend, about 30 Obama supporters had their tires slashed while attending an Obama rally that attracted an overflow crowd of more than 10,000 at the Fayetteville Crown Coliseum. Among the citizens left stranded were a single mother and toddler. "This is an embarrassment to this city and to me as a citizen," said a nearby resident. "This is a crying shame."
After the rally finished, a mob of white McCain-Palin supporters jeered and harassed a steady stream of mostly black Fayetteville residents standing in line to vote early at the downtown Board of Elections office. According to the Washington Times correspondent who reported the story, "people were shouting about Obama's acknowledged cocaine use as a young man, abortion and one man used the word 'terrorist.' " In doing so, they almost certainly violated the Voting Rights Act of 1964, which states:
"No person, whether acting under color of law or otherwise, shall intimidate, threaten, or coerce, or attempt to intimidate, threaten, or coerce any person for voting or attempting to vote"
McCain supporters heckle early voters in Fayetteville, N.C., Oct. 19
And this Monday, a black bear cub was killed and left at the entrance to Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, with Obama campaign signs wrapped around its body, including two taped together over its head. Police reports are calling the incident a "prank," and claim seven students are being questioned. Whatever the motive, this latest development was met with immediate public revulsion and condemnation. As the Asheville Citizen-Times editorialized today, "It was an innocent bear cub that lost its life this time as some deranged person or persons expressed their political rage. Next time, it could be an innocent person."
These incidents have all been perpetrated by or linked to McCain supporters, and stirred up by McCain and Palin's angry, hateful campaign rhetoric. Like during Palin's first stop in the state at a Greenville rally on Oct. 7, when she continued trying to smear Obama over his tenuous connection to Bill Ayers. With uniformed service members standing in the crowd behind her, she again peddled her discredited attack line that Obama was "palling around with terrorists" by asking, "He didn't know that he had launched his political career in the living room of a domestic terrorist?"
The McCain campaign is currently flooding the state with robocalls making identical false charges. The N.C. Republican Party is aiding the attack with a scurrilous mailer sent to N.C. voters headlined, "Obama has close ties to domestic terrorist," with mug shots of Ayers from 1968 and a recent photo of him wearing a Cuban national baseball team jersey. This is the same ridiculously far right state GOP party that ran an attack ad during the primaries tying Obama to Rev. Jeremiah Wright, which McCain repudiated at the time.
Briefly, McCain realized the angry tone of his rallies was turning off voters, and rebuked an elderly supporter who called Obama "an Arab." Within days, he was back in the gutter at their final debate. Before 56.5 million people, he linked Obama to the community organizing group ACORN's voter registration efforts, and hysterically insisted ACORN was "on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy."
On Saturday, McCain recorded a radio address in Concord, N.C. in which he made the racially loaded claim that "Barack Obama's tax plan would convert the IRS into a giant welfare agency," then appeared at a rally attended by several thousand supporters. There McCain was introduced by loony Republican Congressman Robin Hayes, who informed the crowd, "Liberals hate real Americans that work and accomplish and achieve and believe in God." Hayes is locked in a tight rematch against challenger Larry Kissell, a progressive former textile worker who lost to Hayes in 2006 by only 329 votes.
Last week, Palin told big donors at a fundraiser in Greensboro that she was thrilled to be visiting the "pro-America areas of this great nation," a gaffe so ill-advised and guaranteed to offend that she actually apologized for it, a first for Palin. But it was entirely consistent with her worldview, which is warped and narrow minded, categorizing anyone who doesn't share her extreme beliefs as "haters" and enemies.
The same day, she was asked by a local reporter what she thought of the late Sen. Jesse Helms, who was the last unapologeticly racist U.S. politician of the segregation era, held legendary, disgraceful campaign rallies of his own, and whose ultra right wing views were cut from the same cloth as Palin's. No wonder she expressed admiration for the man, admitting that "I do respect those years of service that he had provided." She also did her best to whitewash Helms' shameful legacy by falsely claiming he had apologized for his past misdeeds.
Interviewed by the Washington Post for a recent story on McCain's early political career, former executive director of the Arizona Republican Party Jon Hinz gave some insight into why McCain shows little concern over his campaign stooping to such lengths to trash Obama. "He needs to make enemies of the people he's going against in order to get fired up," said Hinz.
The violent incidents we've witnessed in North Carolina are all lower than low, in fact, they're despicable. But McCain and Palin are to blame for creating an environment where their more unbalanced supporters feel these kinds of actions are legitimate.
Supporters line up for a McCain rally in Wilmington, N.C., Oct. 13
It shows what dangerous ground McCain-Palin are traveling by relying on increasingly desperate, unfounded character attacks on Obama in their attempts to distract our country from the ongoing economic crisis. Yet as polls continue to indicate, these attacks have backfired. They are contributing to voters' distaste for the Republican ticket.
And they're leaving behind a hollowed out party destined for minority status. As independents and moderate Republicans like Colin Powell abandon the McCain-Palin GOP in droves, all that remains are increasingly bitter, frustrated, far-right voters. This election's coming Democratic tsunami will exile Republicans to the political wilderness, where they will have to decide whether to keep clinging to yesterday's politics of fear.
As for John McCain and Sarah Palin, shame on both of them. After resorting to careless demagoguery and stirring up hatred and division so recklessly, neither deserves to hold public office.
Erik Ose is a veteran of Democratic campaigns in North Carolina and blogs at The Latest Outrage.