Is The New Red

Again, I should preface this post by saying that I dislike the presidential candidate options that the two big parties have proffered, that I feel that I’m being given a choice between Coke and Pepsi when what I wanted was lemonade.

However, whether you are a McCain supporter or an Obama supporter or a third-party supporter, one thing I think we should all be concerned about is the sort of rhetoric being used.  There is no reason we can’t have this election without name-calling.  There is no reason we can’t have this election civilly.  And there is no reason that our candidates or their campaigns should be resorting to fearmongering tactics that should have died with the 50’s.

Sarah Palin accuses Obama of hanging around with terrorists.  Democrats accuse Palin of associating with a secessionist movement.

By the nine hells, what is going on here?  I thought we were past these sort of tactics.  It’s a much-quoted cliche that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.  Let us remember history, you and I.  Let’s remember when the United States faced a frightening threat from overseas, and how we dealt with it domestically.

From the late 1940s to the late 1950s, thousands of Americans were accused of being Communists or Communist sympathizers.  We were so terrified of the Soviet Union that we were seeing KGB agents under every doily.  People were blacklisted, investigated, and questioned, often because of this hazy idea of association.

(People who, for example, found the intellectual tenants of the communist paradigm appealing were treated as though this necessarily equated with loyalty to a foreign nation–Russia.  The two are not synonymous, any more than me believing in the tenants of capitalism equates with loyalty to, say, Switzerland, just because Switzerland is a capitalist nation.)

At the forefront of these communist-association accusations was a senator named Joseph McCarthy.  McCarthy led a series of vitriolic and often unsubstantiated investigations, public attacks on character, and insinuations regarding someone’s patriotism (or alleged lack thereof).  People found their backgrounds probed and searched for any hint of association.

There was an epic television duel between McCarthy and a journalist named Edward Murrow.  When Murrow put out a documentary criticizing McCarthy’s methods, McCarthy’s response was to fall back on the weapon of association: his only rebuttal was to try to link Murrow to communist groups and a “terrorist organization.”

In the end, McCarthy’s methods were criticized on the Senate floor by Senator Robert Flanders, and in 1954 the Senate voted to censure McCarthy.  McCarthyism declined, and McCarthy himself was never the same after the censure.

But have the attitudes and practices that made McCarthyism so prevalent truly died out?  I’m afraid that this current election, and some of our actions and attitudes post-9/11, show that they have not fully done so.

What is “anti-American?”  I believe I asked this a few months back, when Obama was being criticized for (*gasp*) not wearing a flag pin.  Is it “anti-American” to merely dissent?  Myself, I’m with James Baldwin on this one–that dissension is, if anything, the most patriotic act, because it shows that we care enough about our nation to speak out when we believe she is wrong.

But again with the association!  Let’s say that Obama DID hang with a terrorist, or that Palin DID give speeches to seccessionists.  Association does not equal equivalence!  In college I hung out with all sorts of people: one of my good friends was a Jewish lesbian Wiccan.  This does not make me Jewish, nor Wiccan, nor a lesbian.

[EDIT:] Don’t know how I missed this one!  The attack of association existed long before McCarthy.

While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?”  On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”  (Matthew 9)

Not that I’m attributing messianic qualities or evangelistic tendencies to either Obama or Palin.  But my point is this: Jesus himself was criticized for associating with those who were considered political traitors.  Mere association means nothing.

So, to those in politics, and also to those outside, I say to you–stop with the association comments.  It’s bad logic, it’s harmful thinking, and it creates an unhealthy attitude in the nation.  We’ve seen it before–I have no wish to see it again.  I will not look for terrorists under every shrub.

I can’t think of any better way to finish this blog than in Murrow’s own words.  (Emphasis mine.)

If we confuse dissent with disloyalty — if we deny the right of the individual to be wrong, unpopular, eccentric or unorthodox — if we deny the essence of racial equality, then hundreds of millions in Asia and Africa who are shopping about for a new allegiance will conclude that we are concerned to defend a myth and our present privileged status. Every act that denies or limits the freedom of the individual in this country costs us the. . . confidence of men and women who aspire to that freedom and independence of which we speak and for which our ancestors fought.”

We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason if we dig deep in our history and doctrine and remember that we are not descended from fearful men, not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes which were, for the moment, unpopular. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. There is no way for a citizen of the Republic to abdicate his responsibility.”


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