So, anyway, John McCain died.
As with any such political or otherwise high profile death, there’s the predictable and rather tiresome back and forth where some want to venerate him while others want to yell at those venerating him that he was responsible for lots of bad stuff.
I’m not interested in doing any of that. Instead, let’s have a look at this.
If you don’t feel like clicking and watching, it’s the clip from 2008 during the McCain-Obama presidential campaign (was there ever such a time?) where a woman says she doesn’t trust Obama because he’s “an Arab”. McCain shakes his head no, that he’s a “decent family man” and that his only differences with him are policy, that there is nothing to be afraid of about him.
Now what’s remarkable about this? Well, nothing really. Except the fact that, looking back on it from a decade later and in our current political climate, it seems remarkable at all.
Really, there is so much wrong in this exchange it’s hard to know where to begin. For one, this woman rather confusingly claims Obama is an Arab, because she likely thinks “Arab” and “Muslim” are just interchangeable terms referring to the exact same people. Which, of course, isn’t even close to true, with a great many people being one and not the other (including my own Christian Arab mother). But I guess I forget there are parts of this country where such distinctions never cross anyone’s mind, where people who aren’t white or black are pretty much unheard of. And that such people might be such a sizable portion from these regions that they get to ask such a question on the national stage of a presidential candidate.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with being either Arab or Muslim. Just an ethnicity. Just a religion.
That’s what’s tricky with responding to such a claim. “I don’t trust Obama because he’s Arab!” He’s not Arab (or Muslim for that matter), not that there’s anything wrong with that if he were. But McCain didn’t mention that latter part (though perhaps due to time). He simply refuted any assertion that he’s dangerous or untrustworthy, with the “decent family man” comment. Not that men who are Arab and/or Muslim can’t be decent family men. Not that being a family man necessarily makes one decent, of course.
His response left something to be desired, or at least it would if not for us now being starkly aware of how much worse it could have been. I mean, we really shouldn’t be holding him up as honorable for simply doing the bare minimum of decency in refuting such assumptions about his opponent, in trying to keep it about policy rather than racist paranoia. That’s what he should be doing. It’s not extraordinary. What’s extraordinary is that he even needed to. What’s extraordinary is that, in that video, when McCain uttered his defenses of Obama from these weird assertions, the crowd grumbled and booed.
Instead, all we can think now is how the Orange Thing would and does handle such questions.
Of course, McCain has been a vocal critic of the Orange Thing, so lately he’s had that going for him as well, if he perhaps could have done more to stop him. Though, again, that should not be extraordinary, since everyone should be against the Orange Thing. What’s extraordinary is that most Republicans have fallen in line behind the Orange Thing, with McCain and a few others being the exceptions to varying degrees.
Perhaps you could still say McCain is honorable in the sense that he’s mostly if imperfectly resisted the temptations to paint Obama as dangerous and the Orange Thing as not dangerous. But really it’s all a sign of just how low the bar is set now.
This has been Day 95 of the 100 Days of Summer, Round 18.