Rage and entitlement

Zach Wiita

One of the things I sometimes suspect we Americans tend to take for granted is the political stability of our country. Think about it – for more than 200 years now, there’s been a presidential election every four years and a midterm election every two years. There has never been a coup d’etat. The U.S. military has never overthrown its own government.

While the United States certainly faces numerous challenges to its ability to remain a liberal democracy, it has never had a genuine dictatorship. And every single time someone new has won the White House, his competitors have accepted his legitimate victory.

That’s why I get a chill down my spine every time I hear Republican supporters of Sen. John McCain call Sen. Barack Obama a terrorist.

It’s been happening all over now. Maybe you’ve seen the reports on CNN or have watched the YouTube videos. They tend to be largely similar: Hecklers calling Obama a terrorist, or yelling out, “Traitor!” when his name is mentioned.

One particularly memorable YouTube video called “The McCain-Palin Mob,” shot at a McCain rally in Strongsville this week, featured numerous Ohioans declaring their belief that Obama was raised into extremist Islamic fundamentalism, or speaking ominously about how they’d never heard of Obama until the past year.

Feel like shocking yourself? Go to Sean Hannity’s official Web forum, and you’ll discover numerous posts from people convinced Obama is going to be arrested for treason very soon, or he’s actually Kenyan-born and his American birth certificate is faked, or he’s secretly a Muslim – and secretly a terrorist. (Obviously, someone has seen “The Manchurian Candidate” a few too many times.) The McCain campaign has been encouraging this – Gov. Sarah Palin herself accused Obama of “palling around” with terrorists and all but claimed he hates America this past week.

I don’t know about you, but I find that kind of rage and entitlement to be dangerous to our republic.

Let’s get one thing straight. In this election, both candidates are consummate patriots. Neither one has any desire to harm the United States, and neither one is a violent criminal. Both candidates have worked alongside or have been friends with some people who are, frankly, disrespectable – it’s completely fair to criticize Obama for having met with former domestic terrorist Bill Ayers early in his career, for instance.

It is completely fair to criticize McCain for having been friendly with Charles Keating, a man who convinced three U.S. senators to apply pressure to a regulatory agency to leave him alone while he was defrauding numerous investors in his company in the early ’90s. But a fair person would never, ever conclude either one of them hates America, or wishes to do harm to the United States, or has committed a crime, or is a terrorist.

To McCain’s credit, he seems to have recognized this rhetoric has gone too far. Anyone who watched CNN on Friday no doubt saw several dozen repeats of a story about McCain’s taking the microphone from one man who said he fears for an Obama presidency, and from a woman who said that she’s afraid of Obama because he’s supposedly a Muslim, to correct them.

“He’s a decent person and a person that you do not have to be scared about as President of the United States,” he said – to boos from his own supporters.

When people are in conflict, it seems to me the human brain is actually prone to believing the worst possible things about our opponents – we literally have an instinct to demonize the people we’re fighting. But a healthy democracy requires we fight that urge. The day we give in to the instinct to believe the absolute worst about our political enemies is the day democracy ceases to function. You know why so many nations have a history of civil war? Because they give in to that urge. They deny the legitimacy of their adversaries. They refuse to accept compromise and refuse to accept when their side has lost.

If enough people start buying into the Manchurian Obama theory – if enough people start believing that a good man with a solid record is somehow dangerous and has no right to govern if elected – then I fear for the future of American democracy.

And so should you.

Zach Wiita is a senior political science and theatre studies major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].