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John McCain Sows the Seeds of Hatred

John McCain: You're better than that! Stop the hate speech before it's too late.
 
 
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John McCain was right in August when he called John Lewis one of the " wisest people" he knew.

So when Representative Lewis -- a Georgia Democrat and veteran of the civil rights movement - recently denounced the McCain/Palin campaign for its use of divisive rhetoric and said the negative tone of the Republican presidential campaign reminded him of the hateful atmosphere that segregationist Governor George Wallace fostered in Alabama in the 1960s, he was calling it like it is.

I have been writing, speaking and blogging extensively of late about the hate speech epidemic in America, which has been mostly playing out on the airwaves of shock jock talk radio. Knowing the tenor of the times, I was unsurprised when the tone of the presidential campaign veered into similar territory. The truth is that Lewis simply called it like it is when he said McCain and running mate Sarah Palin were ''sowing the seeds of hatred and division, and there is no need for this hostility in our political discourse.'' Rather than rejecting his remarks as ''shocking and beyond the pale,'' McCain should have listened to Lewis, who is one of three people the Arizona Senator said he would "rely heavily on" if elected president.

Lewis was also right that the fear and loathing being expressed on the campaign trail in 2008 is frighteningly similar to that of the dark days of 1968. Those of us who were around at the time remember well what happened then, shortly after the hate speaking began. As Lewis noted, ''George Wallace never threw a bomb. He never fired a gun, but he created the climate and the conditions that encouraged vicious attacks against innocent Americans who were simply trying to exercise their constitutional rights. Because of this atmosphere of hate, four little girls were killed on Sunday morning when a church was bombed in Birmingham, Alabama.''

Instead of being viewed through the partisan prism of the heated presidential campaign, Lewis' statement should instead serve, as he said as "a reminder to all Americans that toxic language can lead to destructive behavior." So when McCain and Palin supporters shout ''traitor,'' ''terrorist,'' ''treason,'' ''liar'' and even ''off with his head'' at campaign stops in reference to Barack Obama - and when reporters are threatened and castigated with racist remarks - it's time for all truly patriotic Americans to stand up and speak out. Instead, McCain denounced Lewis' remarks as " shocking and beyond the pale." But it has really been his campaign - and his running mate Sarah "Beyond the" Palin -- who have stepped over the line of acceptable political discourse by floating absurd charges such as the laughable one that Obama has been as ''palling around with terrorists.'' After all, terrorists present a mortal threat to this country - and we all know what happens to them when they're finally caught…

So it doesn't take a genius, or a lot of imagination, to think of what could happen next. Remember the recent shooting at the Unitarian-Universalist church in Knoxville? Remember the 1968 shooting at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis?? And the subsequent one at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles??? I certainly do! That's why I believe the wise man John Lewis when he points out that the McCain/Palin ticket is "playing with fire." And as the late political analyst Robert Nesta Markey once aptly remarked, "Catch a fire - you're gonna get burned!"

So please, John McCain: You're better than that! Stop the hate speech before it's too late. If not, I fear the fire next time may consume us all for decades to come…

Filmmaker and journalist Rory O'Connor is the author of " Shock Jocks: Hate Speech and Talk Radio " (AlterNet Books, 2008). O'Connor also writes the Media Is A Plural blog.

 
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