Thursday, October 23, 2008

McCain: How to Try to Win an Election Without Using Your Brain

The screamers are out there calling Obama a socialist and even a communist.

My Master's Thesis was a script for a documentary film about the Alger Hiss case. I was in the graduate program for film production at Boston University class of 1974, and the country was in the middle of the Watergate quagmire and the Vietnam War. Young readers might ask, "Who (or what) is Alger Hiss?" Younger readers still might not remember Watergate or Nixon at all.

During the days of Watergate hearings in the US Senate, and then the House Judiciary Committee debating articles of impeachment against then president Richard Nixon, I was researching the Hiss case because it had so many parallels with Watergate, not the least of which was the central character of Richard M. Nixon in both.

Alger Hiss had been a member of the Truman State Department in the late 1940's, and was later President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. In the late 1940's, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), of which the young freshman congressman Nixon was a member, interviewed anybody they could find who would implicate democrats working in the government as communist agents for Russia. The plan, which often worked, was to paint, through association and innuendo, the named democrat as being friendly to Russia.

While Russia was a US ally during WWII, in the post war climate communism became as big of a threat as nazism in the mind of the American public. As a dictatorship under Stalin, Russia really was more of a totalitarian oppressive regime than it was a dedicated ideological expression of any such promise of political communism--if there was such a thing. But the demonstration of taint was enough to help republicans get votes because of the fear of the democratic party being more left-wing oriented and therefore closer to communism, and possibly even containing communists among them.

This highly-flawed and detrimental tactic proved so successful in getting republicans elected, that Nixon himself used it repeatedly from congressman, to senator, to VP and then president. When Nixon ran against Helen Gahagan Douglas, a respected democratic member of congress, for senator from California, he referred to her as "the pink lady," because communists were considered "reds," and he said she was "pink right down to her underwear." He won. Two decades later, Nixon won a huge landslide over democratic challenger George McGovern for president, partly by stating constantly that McGovern's left-leaning politics were dangerous.

The Watergate break-in of the democratic party headquarters, which initiated the exposure of Nixon's, and his aides', criminal activity, purportedly was to find evidence of funding contributions from foreign communist sources, such as Cuba, for the McGovern campaign. That way, the republicans would be able to continue to implicate democrats as tainted with communists.

The persistent denouncement of Barak Obama by John McCain as a "socialist" is more of the same routine now, 60 years after Alger Hiss first appeared before HUAC. Maybe younger folks don't remember the joke of McCarthyism and the ruination of careers and lives caused by mindless false accusations. Or maybe they're not paying that much attention to the details of another smear campaign, but there's no doubt some of this nonsensical finger-pointing has an impact, or it would not still be used. The host of the number-one-rated cable TV show, Bill O'Reilly, on the TV show "The View" called Obama a communist.

Pandering and fear tactics are one thing when used by a desperate politician like McCain, but one wonders about media mavens appealing to the lowest common denominator by repeating that Obama's a "socialist." After all these years of communist witch hunting, it would seem time has come to find a new issue to showcase--one with which we the people really need to grapple.