An Appeal to Racism and Fear: The Strategy of the McCain/Palin ticket?

by on October 19th, 2008

Before turning to politics, I want to take a moment to remember Hurricane Katrina, an event that called to mind our Nation’s collective racism and classism. I was asked the other day, why we “liberals” blame Bush for Katrina. After all, he can’t control the weather (ironically, though, he has managed to slow down or completely stop any legislation that would control the greenhouse gas emissions that have been linked to climate change and one of its likely symptoms–stronger and more frequent storm systems). But yes, Bush doesn’t control the weather.

What he does control is funds and how funds are allocated. Bush cut drastically into funds for the Army Corps. of Engineers and FEMA, and shelved the former’s project to improve the levees in New Orleans. He completely gutted funding to conserve and strengthen wetlands, which play a crucial ecological role in absorbing floods from hurricanes. Due to the military’s personnel constraints overseas, there was a lack of officers here on the ground that could deal with this domestic security issue. When state officials, non-profits and even corporations such as Wal-Mart attempted to become involved and ship goods to stranded citizens in the aftermath of the disaster, Bush’s “federalization” of it impeded progress. While NGO, state and private business reps. stood by, awaiting clearance from the federal government, people suffered starvation, dehydration and death. The federal government not only failed to respond effectively, but then with a misguided pr stunt, deterred other entities from taking the lead.

Before the storm, Bush was briefed that there was a probably impending levee breach. He was asked if he had any questions or directives, given this, but he said no, and went on vacation. Afterwards, he went on air explicity lying, claiming a breach could not be anticipated. Yet, was it the government’s responsibility to take care of its citizens? Over a quarter of New Orleans live at or below the poverty line, and so do not possess cars. What is the probability that these citizens could purchase a bus or plane ticket for themselves and families on less than 48 hours notice? Make hotel arrangements? What about the who live close to the levees, the subsidized housing and projects that are situated to be destroyed with a breach?

In the months following the disaster, Congress passed a bill that cut $50 billion in social programs such as Medicaid and Food Stamps–programs that were in higher demand subsequent to HK. Of course, the bill was juxtaposed with $70 billion in tax cuts for the wealthy (those earning over a quarter a million, to a million dollars).

Now I fast forward to the election, where McCain and Palin have taken to fearmongering at their rallies and conjuring up visions of terrorists in relation to Obama’s name. “Who is the Real Barack Obama?” they ask. Then, they let us know, he is not a REAL American. Not like they are. Ms. Palin, a woman who has not once subjected herself to a press conference, has been particularly vicious in her attacks. It is interesting coming from a woman embroiled in an ethics case against her, a case that concluded that Palin, indeed acted unethically and “abused her power” as Governor of Alaska. Also, interesting coming from somone who has been involved in the Secessionist movement in her home state, through the Alaska Independence Party. (She even gave a speech of support at one of their anniversary functions.) Yet Palin, a woman who has not been vetted by the electoral process, questions Obama’s patriotism and American-ess. McCain, a man who has shown a slippery grasp on the economic woes of this country, and a general lack of the geography and cultural conflicts (such as the difference between Sunni and Shiite) of the region he supports waging war on, questions Obama’s experience or knowledge to lead.

What is it about Obama that makes one question his experience, his patriotism? What is it about him that makes him serving on the same board as a man who was once a domestic terrorist some 30 years before akin to “paling around with terrorists.” Bluntly put, this is a shameless appeal to racist and ethnocentric notions that still exist in the psyche of our country. Canvassing in NH, my partner has reflected that many undecided voters still think Obama may be a Muslim, a terrorist (and unfortunately, these two adjectives have been portrayed as synonymous), or a black man who will act to suppress the white constituency (despite the fact that his mother, who raised him, was white). Many people have assumed Bill Ayers (the infamous domestic terrorist and supposed ‘pal’ of Obama) is black himself (which of course, he’s not). Because, you know, terrorists are often dark-skinned and black people stick to their own. This is the kind of nonsense, racist rhetoric that has been injected into the campaign and threatens to trump the true issues affecting Americans.

What is also at stake is the heart of another question. The class question. My father, a 65 year-old retired union member, who lived and worked in NYC his entire life and lost several friends in the World Trade Center (where he himself sometimes worked) will be voting in this election for the first time in over 25 years (the last time he voted was for Reagan). He will be voting for Obama. His reasons are his adversely affected pension and healthcare under Republican rule, and his concern about the War (and his anger that the WTC tragedy was used a front to incite war in a country not responsible for it, a war we all pay for with our taxes). However, my father, who is the youngest of nine children, is the only one of his surviving siblings voting for Obama. Though all of his siblings also struggle in this economy, there reason for voting Republican is simply this: race. My father, a man who up to this point has always been apolitical, has watched this election with suprising attention and for the first time in his life, has had arguments with his brothers about presidential politics.

And what is going on between the classes? There are fundamental differences between McCain’s and Obama’s policies including taxes, health care and education, that need to be defined. Under the Bush administration, many social programs took steps towards privitization or were obliterated, with dire results. Unfortunately, most of McCain’s plans build on the same ideology. McCain’s health care plan would tax health care and raise incentives for putting it on the private market. Once in the market, health care companies would be able to act with greater immunity towards how they restrict access (based on preexisting conditions or family history of illness) and raise their co-pay and premium rates. This would disenfrachise struggling families. As for taxes, Obama would roll back Bush’s tax cuts for the top two percent of income earners, which would factor some hundreds of billions of dollars into government, funds he would use to increase health care access, improve education and diversify our energy sources.

In contrast, McCain would both secure and extend these tax cuts for the wealthy, while raising taxes on the middle-classes to foot the bill. McCain’s “spending freeze” would affect the middle and working classes, through a freeze in social programs and public education spending that often benefit these constituencies (but often NOT the upper class, towards which his tax program favors). However, McCain’s spending freeze will not extend to the Iraq War, which he wants to continue indefinitely, and which accounts for $10 billion a month–over $100 billion a year.

So, McCain’s got money for the War and the wealthy, but what about the rest of us? When Obama talks about “spreading the wealth,” the McCain camp appeals to fear–it’s socialism after all, and he’s spreading the wealth to those who don’t deserve it: the poor, the minorities, the people who don’t know better to get out of town to avoid a levee breach, etc. It’s objectivism, social Darwinism, put in a new context…and hey, if you want to be wealthy one day, do you want some of these poor people, these black people, taking your hard-earned money? These are the subliminal messages being sent by the McCain camp. Of course, what McCain neglects to tell his audience is, his policies will effectively serve to continue to concentrate wealth at the top, and with a freeze or cut into those social programs that act to propel lower- and middle-classes into higher-income brackets, there is very little chance or opportunity for one to exceed in one’s economic status. He’s exploiting the American dream while cutting those programs that served as the backbone to its access.

After the Great Depression, the New Deal was born. It created social programs that widened opportunity for middle and working class people. Over the next several decades, unprecedented social mobility ensued. In the past 20 years (and especially in the past eight), those programs have been deconstructed and gutted, or completely shelved altogether. And what happened? Wealth went on top, and STAYED on top (I have a great graph I will post to show this). And now we have a crisis on our hands, as a result. When you gut or get rid of funding for health care, education, and social programs–crime rates go up, as do drugs and alcohol usage and unemployment (don’t believe me–look at Alaska for an example of this ethic). This utlimately drains economic resources. Tax breaks for the wealthy do not lead to a trickle-down economy. Far from it.

Other countries, or even states in our own union, that prioritize education and healthcare in their funding, and pay progressive taxes (higher for the upper-classes, lower for the lower classes), have substantially lower rates in poverty, crime, drug use, domestic violence, illiteracy, and abortion. One would figure this would support the concept of ‘spreading wealth’ more. After all, I’ve read the Bible several times, and it sounds downright Christian to me. But instead, McCain and Palin want to perpetuate and proliferate the platform they’ve been been standing on, which resembles something very scary: pseudo-feudalistic ideology. And racism and fear is being used as the springboard, the tool, to sell that platform and increase its palatibility to the American public.

I instead appeal to people’s reason and compassion. Let’s take a lesson from Katrina, and learn that prioritizing funds before disaster ensues can save lives, build communities and save much more money in the long run.

Please, don’t be fooled by fear.

Laura Kiesel