As Tommy Christopher has been chronicling this week, a trend has emerged on the campaign trail. Specifically, it has been in evidence most frequently -- but not exclusively -- at the rallies of Sarah Palin and John McCain. The pattern springs forth in the form of a taunt, usually shouted and received with cheers or a sly wink. In the past week alone, McCain/Palin supporters have released their pent-up anger at Barack Obama with cries of "terrorist!" "treason!" "kill him!" and "off with his head!" -- among others.
Truly, the basest of instincts seems to have been unleashed (like a pack of pit bulls) at these events. The question before us is whether McCain himself bears any responsibility for the uptick in the impassioned outbursts. If he does not, as some will argue, then they can be put down to the excitement of the pep rally. Words are not deeds, after all. And, let's face it, we can all get a little carried away when it comes to politics.
On the other hand, some might counter that the timing of this sudden flurry of verbal assaults is no coincidence. Indeed, it comes at the very moment when the McCain's campaign itself promised more negativity. This view holds that McCain and Palin are playing more of a call-and-response game with their audience.
Whatever the cause, this issue is now front and center in the campaign. There's no doubt that hotter rhetoric excites the partisan base. In fact, the hotter it is, the more excited they get. Such taunts infuriate and worry the opposition, and they positively disgust independent voters. Still, the controversy remains. Do we have a simple case of lax crowd control? Or is the pattern reflective of a mob following marching orders?
As the rhetoric at Palin rallies has ratcheted up, so too has the language of supporters in the crowds coming to see her.
The Washington Post'sDana Milbank described a recent Palin rally in Florida:
Palin's routine attacks on the media have begun to spill into ugliness. In Clearwater, arriving reporters were greeted with shouts and taunts by the crowd of about 3,000. Palin then went on to blame Katie Couric's questions for her "less-than-successful interview with kinda mainstream media." At that, Palin supporters turned on reporters in the press area, waving their thunder sticks and shouting abuse. Others hurled obscenities at a cameraa crew. One Palin supporter shouted a racial epithet at an African American sound man for a network and told him to "Sit down, boy."
Egged on by a surly crowd, John McCain and Sarah Palin delivered a stark condemnation of Barack Obama's policies and character Wednesday, casting him as an unreliable choice for president.
The edgy tone of the rally here [in Bethlehem, PA.] was set before the duo arrived onstage, when local Republican official William Platt warmed up the audience by twice referring to the Democratic nominee as "Barack Hussein Obama."
On "The Early Show" yesterday, Joe Biden called the McCain campaign's repeated invocation of William Ayers, "mildly dangerous."
Some see a direct correlation between flagging poll numbers and the surge of negativity, such as Salon's Alex Koppleman:
As it's become increasingly clear that the McCain campaign is in serious trouble, they've been shifting from the issues and trying to stoke voters' fears and prejudices about Barack Obama. This turn toward the negative has been ugly, but the invective the attacks are whipping up among the faithful at Republican rallies is far uglier.
Patrick Ruffini, on the other hand, thinks that McCain's only real mistake in all of this was not going this negative earlier:
The Ayers stuff will be useful in solidifying the base and getting Obama's unfavorables to 40. But it's not a game changer. A casualty of McCain's months-long delay in going on offense is that he's had to debut his harshest material in October rather than road-testing it over the summer. In this sense, throwing the kitchen sink now looks desperate and reactive, even thought it was probably inevitable. Still, it would have been far better had McCain given his campaign license to launch these attacks at a time and place of its choosing, rather than having events force his hand.
So, we'd like to hear what you think. Clearly, no politician can control what his or her supporters blurt out during a campaign rally. But should John McCain stop and acknowledge these instances in an attempt to restore civility? Or is he, in part, the main instigator in their proliferation this month?
Here's some footage taken recently at a Sarah Palin campaign rally:
And more from yesterday's McCain rally in Pennsylvania. No, these are not isolated incidents:
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