McCarthyism Redux: The McCain Campaign's Calumny Express

"Those of us who shout the loudest about Americanism are all too frequently those who, by our own words and acts, ignore some of the basic principles of Americanism."

While these words seem tailor made for the divisive rhetoric of the McCain campaign, they were actually spoken more than 58 years ago on the floor of the United States Senate by Republican Senator Margaret Chase Smith from Maine in her historic repudiation of the vicious character assassinations hurled by Senator Joseph McCarthy against countless Americans. Speaking on behalf of herself and six other Republican Senators, she said that, "The American people are sick and tired of being afraid to speak their minds lest they be politically smeared as 'Communists' or 'Fascists' by their opponents."

The more popular epithets emanating from present-day Republican apparatchiks and the other flacks associated with the 2008 McCain campaign are "terrorist," "Muslim," and "anti-American," but their intent is the same as the red scare labels used so effectively by their McCarthyite role models: to depict their political adversaries generally, and Barack Obama specifically, as somehow dangerous, subversive, even evil.

The following are only a few examples:

• Sarah Palin has repeatedly - and falsely - accused Barack Obama of "palling around with terrorists." This charge is particularly reprehensible because both she and John McCain know full well that Obama only had, to use Colin Powell's description, a "very, very limited relationship" with Bill Ayers on the board of a respected Republican-funded educational foundation in Chicago, and that Obama has repeatedly referred to Ayers as "somebody who engaged in detestable acts 40 years ago, when I was 8."

• The Republican National Committee has been sending around a mailer with the image of what looks like a plane about to crash into a building and the menacing words "Terrorists - Don't Care Who They Hurt" on the cover. The inside of the mailer contains an oversized picture of Barack Obama and the words "Barack Obama. Not Who You Think He Is." When McCain was shown this brochure in Missouri earlier this week and asked if he was proud of it, he replied, "Absolutely."

• The McCain campaign and the RNC have launched a scurrilous automated telephonic robocall campaign charging "that Barack Obama has worked closely with domestic terrorist Bill Ayers, whose organization bombed the U.S. Capitol, the Pentagon, a judge's home, and killed Americans."

• Craig S. MacGlashan, the chairman of the Sacramento Republican Party in Northern California, posted a photograph of Senator Obama alongside one of Osama bin Laden on his group's website with the explanation, "The only difference between Obama and Osama is B.S." and "Waterboard Barack Obama." (This material was removed from the website after protests from Democrats and Republicans, but MacGlashan has yet to apologize or retract his unsubtle message.)

• "Who is the real Barack Obama?" McCain asked at a rally in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on October 6th. When the crowd loudly and clearly responded, "Terrorist," McCain smiled and went on with his speech. He had gotten the reaction he wanted. McCain, his campaign and the RNC keep asking the rhetorical question, "Who Is Barack Obama?" in speeches and ads as a fear mongering tactic. Every once in a while, McCain pulls back and reprimands a supporter who has gotten his message, but these are the exceptions. On the whole, McCain and Palin seem to revel in their crowds' vehemence. Sarah Palin has never, not once, reprimanded any of her fans who shout "traitor" or "kill him" when she mentions Obama's name in her stump speech.

• Sarah Palin has referred to those parts of the country that support her and John McCain as the "pro-America areas of this great nation."

• Jeffrey M. Frederick, the Chairman of the Virginia Republican Party, has likened Barack Obama to Osama bin Laden in a pep talk to campaign volunteers, explaining that "Both have friends that bombed the Pentagon. That is scary."

• Minnesota Republican Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann first told Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball that she was "very concerned" that Senator Obama "may have anti-American views," and then went on to say that "I wish the American media would take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out: Are they pro-America or anti-America?"

• North Carolina Republican Congressman Robin Hayes from North Carolina told a crowd that "liberals hate real Americans that work and achieve and believe in God."

• Marcia Stirman, the chair of the Otero County Republican Women in New Mexico, wrote in the in the Alamogordo Daily News that "I believe Muslims are our enemies," and that "Obama isn't a messiah or a Democrat. He's a Muslim socialist."

• Republican U.S. Senator Mel Martinez from Florida denounced Obama's economic policies as "Socialism, Communism, not Americanism."

Any one of these incidents, viewed in isolation, might be dismissed as an aberration. Together, they form a disquieting, unmistakable pattern.

Most recently, we also witnessed the McCain campaign's unseemly eagerness to promote the crude hoax that a six foot four African American attacked a white female volunteer. Even John Moody, the Executive Vice President of Fox News, was uncharacteristically suspicious. "If the incident turns out to be a hoax," Moody warned when the story first came out, "Senator McCain's quest for the presidency is over, forever linked to race-baiting." Peter Feldman, the McCain campaign's Pennsylvania communications director, showed no such reticence when he urged at least two local Pittsburgh television stations, KDKA and WPXI, to feature a racially charged version of this train wreck, complete with fictional charges that the non-existent attacker had told the young woman that, "You're with the McCain campaign? I'm going to teach you a lesson," and that the backward "B" carved into her cheek supposedly stood for Barack. Much to the hapless Mr. Feldman's probable chagrin, it did not take long for the woman to confess that she had made the whole thing up, but by then, the Drudge Report and right wing radio talk show hosts had run with the sensationalist news flash.

Occasionally even the Republican trash machine realizes it has gone too far and they retreat a little. An email message from the Pennsylvania Republican Party's "Victory 2008" committee to Jewish voters in Pennsylvania that equated voting for Barack Obama with the "tragic mistake" of European Jews who "ignored the warning signs of the 1930s and 1940s" was repudiated by the state party, and the flack who had drafted the e-mail was fired because "he definitely went a little bit farther than the facts would support." Whew. We finally know the GOP's line in the sand. Comparing Obama to Osama bin Laden is ok, but summoning up Hitler is beyond the pale. Thank you so much for enlightening us.

In her 1950 Declaration of Conscience, Margaret Chase Smith said that "I don't want to see the Republican Party ride to political victory on the Four Horsemen of Calumny -- Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry and Smear." John McCain, Sarah Palin and the Republican Party have knowingly resurrected these demons with a vengeance. We must not, we cannot let them get away with it.

Menachem Rosensaft, a lawyer in New York City, is the Founding Chairman of the International Network of Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors