Since the end of World War II the United States has seen successful politician after successful politician exploit race, national security, gender, religion, sexuality, class, etc. Running fear based campaigns has generally worked. Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush are good examples at the White House level but the same tactics that put those men in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue have put others in the House, Senate and State Houses across the country. Think Joseph McCarthy, George Wallace or Strom Thurmond. All these figures ran on different issues but they shared in common a willingness to divide the American people and to exploit sexism and racism (or other “isms”) to win their offices.
The person in the 2008 elections who most personifies this class of politician is Sarah Palin. She has campaigned on the notion that there is a “real” America and thus a “fake” America. Palin, of course, represents what is real and for her real America is found in culturally conservative small towns. New York City, Pennsylvania, and Washington, DC – all places the terrorists attacked in 2001 – aren’t part of Palin’s real America.
She has also been the loudest voice to try and link Barack Obama to terrorists. Right-wing extremist groups have been attempting this for years by falsely linking Senator Obama to Islam. Palin declares we don’t know enough about Obama at her rallies – where people have been heard to yell “kill him” and where her supporters have asserted before the media that the senator is a secret Islamic follower. Senator Obama is, of course, a Christian. He was baptized in the United Church of Christ, my denomination.
Thus far Palin’s tactics seem to have backfired. Polls suggest that she is a drag on John McCain’s ticket. Tomorrow might find her on a plane back to Alaska with a lot of Republicans blaming her in large part of a GOP defeat.
But she did manage to rally the party’s base in a way John McCain couldn’t. And she did it back acting like Nixon, Reagan and Bush.
Tomorrow it appears the politics of hope and change articulated by Barack Obama and Joe Biden will triumph over the politics of fear and hate embodied so well this election cycle by Sarah Palin. But don’t count Palin out. Republicans see something familiar in her they like: a candidate willing to do or say anything to win. No matter how badly it divides the country.