First, Adam Serwer on another right-wing dogwhistle phrase: What Right Wingers Mean When They Call Obama Socialist. He explores the long history of American politicians using “socialist” as short-hand for “scary black person”:
Conservatives, now and in the past, have turned to “socialism” and “communism” as shorthand to criticize black activists and political figures since the civil-rights era. In The Autobiography of Malcolm X as written by Alex Haley, Malcolm recalls being confronting by a government agent tailing him in Africa, not long after his pilgrimage to Mecca. The agent was convinced that Malcolm was a communist. Malcolm spent years under surveillance because of such bizarre suspicions. Likewise, J. Edgar Hoover spent years attempting to link Martin Luther King Jr. to the communist cause. King, for his part, welcomed everyone who embraced the cause of black civil rights, regardless of their ideological ties. This included communists and socialists, but the idea that a devout man of God like King saw black rights as a mere step in a worldwide communist revolution was absurd. Malcolm was a conservative. King was a liberal. To their enemies, they were simply communists.
The feeling that black-rights activists were part of a front for communism and socialism was widespread. Jerry Falwell famously criticized “the sincerity and intentions of some civil rights leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., James Farmer, and others, who are known to have left-wing associations.” Falwell charged, “It is very obvious that the Communists, as they do in all parts of the world, are taking advantage of a tense situation in our land, and are exploiting every incident to bring about violence and bloodshed.” For the agents of intolerance, things haven’t changed much. On October 9, a McCain supporter told the candidate that he was angry about “socialists taking over our country.” McCain told him he was right to be angry.
The right wing continues to link the fight for black equality with socialism and communism. At the website of conservatism’s flagship publication, National Review, conservatives like Andy McCarthy argue whether Obama is “more Maoist than Stalinist,” and National Review writer Lisa Schiffren explicitly argued this summer that Obama must have communist links based on his interracial background. Schiffren mused, “for a white woman to marry a black man in 1958, or 60, there was almost inevitably a connection to explicit Communist politics.”
This conclusion is one she shares with Robert Shelton, Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1950s, who declared that “amalgamation is ultimately the goal of the Communist element.”
And Megan at Jezebel — who, as a sidenote, has become one of my favorite bloggers, if you aren’t already reading her stuff — writes Just Say It: The Race-Baiting Tactics Of John McCain And Sarah Palin Are Reprehensible.
This is not purple Band-Aids and flip-flops, this is not “George Bush is a war criminal and should be prosecuted.” This is also not simple name calling: calling someone a traitor, or accusing him of treason, calling “off with his head” is a call for someone’s death, not an effort to mock or simply belittle him. This is hate speech, this is, in some cases, a series of threats against people’s lives and they should be stopped, immediately and directly by the candidates, who should say without equivocation that such speech and such threats are not welcome. But they won’t, because this is the new McCain strategy: portray Obama as the outsider, the threat to America, the guy cavorting with terrorists — who, in the minds’ eyes of many of these people, are not white college professors, let’s add —, the one who doesn’t understand the “real” America. This is code for “white” America. The McCain campaign is using some horrible, twisted fear that apparently lives in the hearts of too many Americans that there are two Americas (as John Edwards said) and that they are a white one and a black one, a good one and a bad one, an honorable one and a hooliganish one, a democratic one and a socialist one. And there is a time and a place to give people the benefit of the doubt, and there is a time and a place for the media to stand up and say: we know your faces, we know what you are and we reject you.
Read ’em both. Adam and Megan are right: This isn’t just about differences of political opinion or the usual “liberals-are-socialist-pussies” rhetoric. This is getting scary. John McCain and Sarah Palin may not be the ones yelling “Kill him!” at rallies, but they are instigating their supporters and playing the fear card as hard as they can. And that’s dangerous — when they continue to position Barack Obama as a threat to America and our very way of life, they send the message that something needs to be done. Some conservatives have already suggested “the fucking solution” — a noose.
This isn’t politics as usual — although I suppose it is a rehashing of segregationist-era tactics that never explicitly promoted violence, but made it clear enough. To quote Georgia Congressman John Lewis:
“During another period, in the not-too-distant past, there was a governor of the state of Alabama named George Wallace who also became a presidential candidate. George Wallace never threw a bomb. He never fired a gun, but he created the climate and conditions that encouraged vicious attacks against innocent Americans who were simply trying to exercise their constitutional rights.
“Because of this atmosphere of hate, four little girls were killed on Sunday morning when a church was bombed in Birmingham, Alabama.”
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