Monday, October 13, 2008

Obama and Terrorists

Ann Fisher is a senior political science student at North Central College and a multi-year participant in the college's Model United Nations program. Her research interests center on race and politics, as well as international relations.

It’s time to face it; Barack Obama was not just a skinny kid with a funny name. He was a skinny, black kid with a funny, African and Muslim name. These adjectives completely change the perspective with which we look at him. So when Sarah Palin claims that he is “palling around with terrorists,” she is not hoping to make one think of Bill Ayers, a former elementary school teacher and leader of the militant group Weather Underground. Instead she is hoping for a different picture.

It is not my intention to deny that the Weather Underground is considered a terrorist organization. The attacks committed by this group were horrific. Nor is it my intention defend Senator Obama’s interaction with this man. There may be a defense for why he would be involved with such a person, but more importantly I think we should look at the way in which her statements were framed. As the McCain campaign has fallen behind in the polls, they have attempted to turn the conversation to Senator Obama’s character. This should be no surprise to the Obama campaign, which has been defending his character from the beginning.

Obama has to deal with Reverend Wright, while no one is talking about the endorsement of John McCain by John Hagee, who even conservatives have called a bigot. As I said, I am not attempting to defend or condone some of Obama’s associations, but it seems to me that there was intention on Sarah Palin’s part not to make Americans think of William Ayers who in the past committed these acts (and is a school reformer in Illinois). Instead she wants us to put him in the same light as Osama Bin Laden. She is perpetuating this idea of difference.

Senator Obama is different in every way. It is true; Barack Obama is black, he has a father from Africa and attended a Muslim school in Indonesia. Barack did have a pastor who said things not often said by white pastors, and some of his past associates have committed horrible acts of violence. But John McCain has skeletons in his closet too. According to Paul Begala on Meet the Press (Oct. 6, 2008),

This guilt by association path is going to be trouble ultimately for the McCain campaign…John McCain sat on the board of a very right-wing organization. It was the U.S. Council for World Freedom. It was chaired by a guy named John Singlaub, who wound up involved in the Iran-Contra scandal. It was an ultraconservative right-wing group. The Anti-Defamation League, in 1981, when McCain was on the board, said this about this organization. It was affiliated with the World Anti-Communist League, the parent organization, which ADL said, “has increasingly become a gathering place, a forum, a point of contact for extremists, racists and Anti-Semites.”

The Obama campaign claims that they are going to stick to discussing the economy, a strategy that I believe will benefit them. But now that I know this about John McCain, I wonder if a discussion on “guilt by association” really would play against his favor. I don’t think it would. I believe that this has everything to do with the fact that he is white man named John McCain, and his opponent is a black man named Barack Hussein Obama. The images displayed by that name ultimately display fear in the American public.

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