Sunday, February 17, 2008

McCain's Bigotry

I recently posted about the contrast between John McCain and Barack Obama in back to back television appearances made just after the so-called Potomac Primaries. Obama made a rousing speech in front of a diverse group of 17,000 cheering supporters, followed immediately by McCain in a small, intimate setting backed by the old, white, mostly male GOP support that he's counting on. I treated the event as a simple matter of contrasting campaigns, with a juxtaposition of new, fresh, energetic atmosphere to old, stuttering, dusty context.

Frank Rich of the New York Times writes a beautiful piece on the same subject, detailing the racial divide that was symbolically evident on that day. It's a very good read, although Republicans in denial may be upset by the characterization Rich presents. Such is Frank Rich, of course.

I've been saving my thoughts on John McCain and his spotty record on racial issues until we are ready for a general election campaign, but I couldn't seem to hold out any longer because it really bothers me. This is an overall criticism of the GOP, but it must be particularly aimed in the direction of McCain at this point because he is on the stump running for president. I could point, as Rich does, to the fact that there have been more African-American faces on stage during GOP events in the Bush administration than there have been in the crowd. There have been many press events with African-Americans during this administration, deflecting the reality on the ground. The Bush people have always been more in the business of propaganda than governing.

McCain's own history has been shaky on the issue of race. He has been both victim and perpetrator of racial intolerance. In 2000, the unscrupulous Bush campaign used McCain's adopted Bangladeshi daughter to hurt him in South Carolina. During that same campaign, McCain lashed out against "gooks" in front of reporters. In fact, it was at that moment that I recognized McCain so vividly for the first time. Katie Hong, a Korean-American government worker in the state of Washington wrote about the incident for the Seattle Post Intelligencer in March of 2000 saying:

"On his campaign bus recently, Sen. John McCain told reporters, "I hated the gooks. I will hate them as long as I live." Although McCain said he was referring only to his prison guards, there are many reasons why his use of the word "gook" is offensive and alarming.

It is offensive because by using a racial epithet that has historically been used to demean all Asians to describe his captors, McCain failed to make a distinction between his torturers and an entire racial group.

It is alarming because a major candidate for president publicly used a racial epithet, refused to apologize for doing so and remains a legitimate contender."

McCain later apologized publicly for the comments and promised to never use the term "gook" in public again. That's fine, but the cat is out of the bag. We peeked into McCain's psyche and saw the ugly truth. No one will begrudge Senator McCain his ill feelings towards his Vietnamese captors. No one will deny him the pain and torment that he likely has held since his service and that he will likely hold until his last breath. The problem is, John McCain entered public service 18 years prior to these remarks. He had been released from captivity in Vietnam 27 years earlier. How is it that John McCain had not come to terms with the word "gook" in the 27 years that had passed since his release, and the 18 years that he had been representing Americans in public office? Are we to believe that he has privately come to terms with the word, even after his public recognition of its destructive power?

In his post-victory speech following the Potomac Primary, McCain was flanked by several elder statesmen of the Republican Party. It didn't make for an effective image, but more than that it was another hint at the racial intolerance of the GOP in general. With McCain (out of the picture in this clip) was George Allen, who McCain introduces as "former Governor, former Senator from Virginia...a great man".

You'll remember George Allen as the candidate that lost re-election in 2006 as a result of the now famous "macaca" clip of YouTube fame. The moment that made YouTube a political reality in the modern media landscape. What message does his presence with McCain send? His most recent public moment came as a result of racism, yet he is somehow a campaign strength for John McCain? Most people would consider George Allen a campaign liability, especially given the idea that the Democrats have opened this election to a new era of diversity. An era more reflective of the makeup of the United States.

I will write more about this as we move forward. I won't let John McCain dodge this for my part. The mainstream press largely ignored the "gook" comment of 2000, and as a result most people are probably unaware that it ever took place. We'd likely know nothing of the "macaca" incident were it not for YouTube. The most democratic forms of media participation (the internet, blogs, YouTube) have revolutionized our understanding of politics on the ground and make for a more accountable government. Hold the GOP accountable in this case.

UPDATE (2/18): I came across this little YouTube clip that I was unaware of. McCain using the term "tar baby" on the 2008 campaign trail. I'm sure there was no racial intent behind his utterance of that expression, but it is particularly demonstrative of the out of touch GOP and the power of YouTube....


mike's spot said...

As so often is the case- I dig you but I disagree with you.

McCain's use of the word 'Gooks', though inappropriate, I do not disdain. The man was a POW for what, 5 years?

Gook, I do not believe, to mean the entire Asian culture, nor do I believe it to mean even all Vietnamese citizens. The epithet refers directly to the same Vietnamese that we called 'Charlie'. The opposing forces in the north during the Viet Nam War. The slur died with the close of the War.

I'm not a fan of fighting fire with fire, nor do I think his actions were commendable, but you bet your ass if I was held captive for half a decade and tortured by a group of people- that group of people would be some serious Bastards in my eyes.

Last- lets not forget every major American conflict in the 20th century has had some racial slur slandering happening. If it was the 'Krauts', 'Nips','Gooks', 'Skinnies', 'Haajis', or anyone of the more grotesque slurs used- its not a McCain problem, its an American issue.

also if someone has genuinely tried to kill me from an opposing force and has succeeded in killing several of my friends, I'm not sure how against slurs I am if it helps our Men and Women deal with the stresses of the fog of war.

Mike Plugh said...

Mike, you miss the point. I makes no difference if you or I think it's okay. It makes every bit of difference what Asian-Americans feel about it.

John McCain is not a regular citizen like you or I. He is a public servant and has been given the responsibility of representing millions of people, some of whom are white, black, brown, and yellow. The word "gook" is offensive to Asian-Americans in the same way the word "nigger" is to African-Americans. Follow me.

A young John McCain is walking down the street at night with his girlfriend and is brutally beaten and robbed by an African-American guy. In the chaos his girlfriend is killed. He suffers terribly in the hospital with his injuries and with PTSD from seeing his girlfriend die on the street.

He curses the man that committed the crime from his bed calling him a nigger. This goes on for years. One day, John McCain is elected to the House of Representatives and eventually to the Senate. He has a long career of good public service, campaigning on a platform that includes his horrible experience with street crime as a piece of his resume that qualifies him as a person who understands how to fight crime.

He decides eventually that he's going to run for president and on the campaign trail says, "I'll hate that nigger for the rest of my life." Would anyone let that slip? Would he have another second on the campaign trail, or would it be over.

The only reason John McCain got away with what he did in 2000 is because Asian-Americans are largely invisible to the general population. The population of Asian-Americans is much smaller than African-Americans or Latinos and most of the recent immigrants still come from Confucian societies where you don't stand out against authority. The second and third generation Asian-Americans are beginning to find their voice, but it is a whisper when compared to the other ethnicities.

As a person who is charged with the responsibility of representing 290 million people, you can't use words like gook, nigger, spic, fag, bitch, kike, and so on. Actually, it's tragic that anyone would use this kind of language but you can hear it on the street everyday. The president of the United States is the most powerful person in the world and is in many ways the official voice on what's acceptable and what's not in America.

Remember, John McCain said what he did while he was in front of reporters on the campaign trail, not in his living room or in a bar with close friends or fellow POWs. That's a far more ominous sign about his psyche than the alternative.

mike's spot said...

Mike your point is valid but try this point-

If John McCain only alienated the Asian community and its supporters, I'll venture a guess that he doesn't care.

US politics are far more concerned with the white and black vote. A tragic result of the numbers of people from ethnic backgrounds within the US.

If Asian Americans were as large a segment of our population as the African Americans are now, and it was the blacks who were a severe minority I'd venture that McCain using the word 'nigger' would fall on deaf ears.

It would be an issue in your example because of the historical actions in the US.

People remember the Asian internment camps in the US, but not nearly so coldly as they remember slavery.

again your point is good, I just don't like your example as I think it a bit misleading.

Every group of people, regardless of size or economic might should have the same decency as any other. However I do not have the faith in my government to have such a dream executed.

Mike Plugh said...

But, John McCain is running for president of the United States. The most powerful position on Earth. The symbol of ultimate power. We give the president the responsibility that we do because he or she represents ALL of us.

When we choose that person, we are putting a face on our country and our culture that supposedly best represents what we believe in. If we accept racial intolerance, even in the case of a man scarred by his POW experience, we give it legitimacy beyond anything we could possibly do otherwise. We've symbolically given license to that kind of language and as a result we've hurt millions of people.

We also send a message to the entire continent of Asia that they can't trust us. If McCain publicly uses the word gook, what does that say to China? What are they supposed to think about our foreign policy towards them. From a purely political standpoint, it's harmful.

The overall issue, well beyond McCain, is that an entire wing of American politics seems to have embodied this problem. You have Trent Lott celebrating segregation. You have McCain's gook comment. You have George Allen and the "macaca affair." It goes on and on and on with Republicans.

To wrap this up, I have always considered myself a Progressive Independent. I like Teddy Roosevelt and I like FDR. I don't like to lock myself into one way of thinking. The Republican in my mother's district in PA, where I vote these days, Rep. Gerlach is generally a good representative of the purple area he belongs to. The problem with the GOP for me is that I can't vote for Gerlach because I can't give the fringe members of the Party any real power. If I support one of them, I'm giving the group of them the potential for another assault on our civil rights.

The issue of race is a big one. I can't in good conscience vote for even the best of Republicans in 2008 because professional politicians tend to support their Party above the people. On the issue of race, I won't compromise.

mike's spot said...

I don't disagree on any particular point. You have more faith in parties doing what they say than I do.

Civil liberties will continue to be encroached because it benefits the government. Why not have an ever expanding business that has virtually unlimited power?

The reason I can't support democrats is they fight for equality by bringing us all down to the same level, the GOP, however misguided, thinks they open up doors for us to rise together.

I know thats a twisted opinion of the Dems, but thats how there actions feel to me. Not that the GOP hasn't had some duzzies as well. cough patriot act cough. . .

Mike Plugh said...

The Dems fail because they try to please everyone on everything. The GOP succeeds because they have narrowed their core constituency to a dedicated group who never waver in support. Then they go get special interest groups and pledge to always do right by them. That's enough to get 51% in most years.

It's the reason I support a Parliamentary system of government in the end, despite it's obvious flaws. It forces multiple parties to pool their resources in order to form voting alliances. It assures that there are choices on issues beyond black and white. It may also promote gridlock in many ways and a less stable political landscape, but it's also closer to true democracy than what we have now.

We operate on a system of false choices. Either A or B. The world is far more complicated than that and our real, on the ground, politics demonstrate that. I vote Democratic because I think the core of what I believe is found somewhere in their ranks at the moment. There's plenty that I disagree with, but the most fundamental beliefs that I hold are best represented in their midst.

I'm a Progressive. That's come to mean "liberal" in today's narrowly defined world, but Teddy Roosevelt was a Progressive too. I may be SUPER liberal on some things, race being one of them, but I think what defines me politically is much broader than that.

I can't vote GOP in good conscience because they are the party of Karl Rove. What I mean by that is, traditionally the Republican Party has represented conservative American ideals, but it's become much more of a political game in the post-Nixon environment. After Nixon was brought down, you had a group of sneaky bastards who saw the means to grasp power in polarizing America. They accomplished it by using religion and race. The religious polarization took place by redefining American Christianity to equal a lot of things it never had been before. It turned anti-abortion activists into the Republican Guard in rural America. It painted the political Left as Communist sympathizers (meaning Godless).

It turned the Confederate flag into a symbol of twisted pride and made an artificial debate about the South versus to liberal university elite who hated them. It's all an artificial creation of Rove and his people to bring about a "permanent Republican majority" even if that means pitting 51% against 49%.

It's no longer an open debate about real issues. It's a fixed ballgame that people like Rove set up. McCain has spent a good part of his career outside that group, but as he has found his presidential ambitions he's been sucked in. He HAS TO embrace the religious Right. He has to play the game of the Republican political machine in order to get elected. That's why lunatics like Rush Limbaugh hate him. They know he isn't one of them. They say "them" means "real conservatives", but "them" really means GOP political androids that care more about a small elite than about real American issues.

As far as race is concerned, I can't support a Republican until he or she stands up and condemns the fringe of the Party. Someone who really stands up for a new GOP and a climate of inclusion. The window dressing they have done is dishonest and hides an ugly streak a mile wide.

mike's spot said...

I don't know mike- you say you can't support the party because of what it represents. Even if a member detached as you say, you still couldn't support them because they are within the party. your giving the party support by proxy.

I too dislike the two party system. It forces people to vote on one or maybe 2 issues that govern their life. the rest of the values of the party get adopted over time and brow beating.

I don't see how it can be a sustainable system.

Mike Plugh said...

"I don't know mike- you say you can't support the party because of what it represents. Even if a member detached as you say, you still couldn't support them because they are within the party. your giving the party support by proxy."

I'm not sure exactly what you mean here. I can't support the GOP because it's an artificial construction of political manipulators. It's not a real coalition of ideas. It's a Frankenstein monster built by Karl Rove and people like him that has only one purpose, to grab power.

The Democrats fail over and over because they are trying to please everyone on Earth. They are ineffective because they are actually trying to appeal to America as a whole. The Democratic Party is the antithesis of a Frankenstein monster because all the different ideas are floating around without any unifying property.

I can't support Frankenstein in this case because it represents largely narrow special interests cobbled together in a coalition of voters. It's a practical arrangement that gives birth to unnatural alliances hardwired by political opportunists. Think about it for a second. The GOP had the White House, the Congress, the Governors and did they overturn Roe v. Wade? Did they create a Nirvana for the NRA? Did they load the Supreme Court with Christian conservatives? Did they legislate the Confederate flag as a legitimate symbol of the South that can be proudly flown over government buildings?

The answer to all of those things is "no". They didn't follow through on any of their promises to the members of their voting coalition. They increased spending, abandoned the poor, saw the environment and global warming run out of control, and helped their rich friends get even richer.

They grabbed power by using their coalition. I mean "using" in the sense that they lied and manipulated them. The Democrats aren't above the same level of manipulation, but they have to this point avoided the same kind of political chicanery that has helped the GOP hold power since 1994.

If you believe in conservatism and/or libertarianism you won't find it in the Republican Party. Not the way it exists today. The level of corruption and power mongering that permeates the current GOP has all but destroyed real conservatism as an organized form of government. McCain used to be closer to the real deal, but the redefinition of conservatism as the Karl Rove/Rush Limbaugh/William Kristol model has made him look like a "maverick". He's not a maverick. He's a moderate conservative.

So, when I say I can't support the Republican Party, it means that I can't support the people that hijacked the Republican Party and twisted our nation into a collection of manipulated special interests. The reason I like Obama is that I think he transcends that. I think Hillary Clinton plays by the political rules that have been shaped by this modern definition of government, and while she's a good alternative to Bush, I don't think she's substantially better than McCain other than the fact that I like her ideologically better.

Obama is not one of them. He may or may not be prepared for the huge responsibility of the presidency, but at least we know that he offers a breath of fresh air from the Karl Rove/Rush Limbaugh/Bill Clinton form of machine politics that deals with all of us like data and forgets to govern us like human beings.

You wonder why Obama's movement has grown so swiftly? It's because he is free of the baggage. He's free of the baggage that has our president at a 30% approval rating and our Congress at 25%. He isn't campaigning on smears, tricky language, or artificial coalitions. He is appealing to our sense of Americanism and not pandering to us as special interests. That's the key.

mike's spot said...

sorry if i was unclear

Plugh says:
As far as race is concerned, I can't support a Republican until he or she stands up and condemns the fringe of the Party. Someone who really stands up for a new GOP and a climate of inclusion. The window dressing they have done is dishonest and hides an ugly streak a mile wide.

but before that plugh says:

I can't vote GOP in good conscience because they are the party of Karl Rove. What I mean by that is, traditionally the Republican Party has represented conservative American ideals, but it's become much more of a political game in the post-Nixon environment.

Sorry about the confusing paraphrasing. I'm just saying you can't ever support Frankenstein if i read you right, because Frankenstein cannot be killed by one man or woman

as for hillary playing by the political rules- if by that you mean scum who plays the game and banters for money begging like a trick pony, I agree totally :p

the GOP did none of the things you asked. but what did the dems do in 94? Bent me over the table. Fu**ed me for guns, I think set in motion the bubble burst of the internet (not that its bad, it needed to happen) and had Billy C going out of his way to make sure I can't wipe my Butthole without a monitor making sure I did it right for the sake of the children.

People like me vote republican not because we think they'll do what they say, but because we have faith they won't fu** it up more.

sorry for the course language, but I really feel this way. talk about an apathetic voter.

Mike Plugh said...

I got you. I think, speaking specifically about 2nd Amendment issues, that we need to be concerned with the Constitutional freedoms that spell out our very way of life. There needs to be an ACTUAL debate about what they are, how we feel about them, if they hold true a few hundred years later, and so on.

The problem is, the GOP uses the 2nd Amendment as a scare tactic. People like you care deeply about the freedoms of the 2nd Amendment because they hit close to your chosen way of life. Our government has a responsibility to represent your freedoms as they are spelled out in the Constitution, while also dealing realistically with the negative consequences of those freedoms on society. That's why we have the Supreme Court. Not all speech is protected, but we do our best to keep MOST speech protected.

The GOP takes you for granted. They think that they have a monopoly on your vote so they don't ever deal directly with the issues you care about. They do enough to placate you and keep you coming back, but only because the Democrats are so stupid that they ignore the 2nd Amendment altogether.

It's really a false choice because neither party cares about dealing with the issue head on. The abortion issue is exactly the same as the "gun issue". The gun issue works for the GOP because it promises to keep you "free", while the abortion issue works for the Democrats because they promise to keep women "free". The gun issue works for Democrats because they can promise to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and look tough on crime. The abortion issue works for Republicans because they have a cause celeb to rally Christian conservatives around at election time.

Neither party has an interest in ever dealing with these issues, because they've defined their voting blocks in terms of A versus B. Again, that's one of the things I like about Obama from a purely philosophical standpoint. He hasn't made either of those things campaign issues. He isn't muddling up the bigger problems we have facing us with special interest issues. He's looking at things as a whole and saying, "Let's take a fresh approach."

I'm sure he probably won't come down on the side of the "gun issue" that you prefer, but at the same time I get the feeling that he's much more likely to engage you honestly and openly about it than Clinton, McCain, Bush, or just about any of the machine politicians we have around now.

I may be wrong in the end. My support for Obama may lead to disappointment in the end if he's elected and he turns out to be just like the rest of them, but at least my choice will be made based on the potential for authenticity. That's after all what we really need more than great policy production, right?

mike's spot said...

Mike I agree strongly with much of your assessment.

your right, Obama kinda kills me for guns. His voting record is abysmal, he now tries to say he is 'pro gun' and 'pro individual right' but non of us are biting.

On all other points I agree with you totally though.