Tue, Oct 14, 2008 - Page 7 News List

McCain tones down negative rhetoric

STRONG CRITICISM A long-time civil rights activist and lawmaker slammed McCain and Sarah Palin for whipping up a climate of hate similar to Dixicrat George Wallace


US Senator John McCain has bowed to a growing chorus of condemnation over his personal attacks in the election campaign, which critics have claimed run the risk of unleashing the politics of the mob by inciting hatred among his increasingly volatile ranks.

Faced with rising criticism of his negative tactics, the Republican presidential candidate looks to have begun to rethink his strategy.

He notably toned down his rhetoric during a sweep through Minnesota, responding to one woman who called Senator Barack Obama an Arab.

“No, ma’am. No, ma’am. He is a decent family man, citizen, that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues,” McCain said.

The most cutting criticism of the McCain camp’s campaign came from Representative John Lewis, a Democrat from Atlanta, Georgia.

He accused McCain and his running mate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, of “sowing the seeds of hatred and division.”

Lewis likened the attacks made by the Republican candidates against Obama to the climate of hate that was whipped up by governor George Wallace, a Democrat who held the governorship of Alabama intermittently over 30 years until 1982.

He said, referring to a notorious episode in 1963: “Because of [the] atmosphere of hate, four little girls were killed on a Sunday morning when a church was bombed in Birmingham, Alabama.”

To compare the tactics of McCain to Wallace, a segregationist, would have been piercing from any politician. Coming from Lewis, a lauded leader of the civil rights movement and close associate of Martin Luther King Jr, who had his skull fractured by Alabama police in 1965, it was incendiary.

McCain immediately hit back, saying the comparison with Wallace was “shocking and beyond the pale.”

Lewis said he had been seeking to remind US citizens that “toxic language can lead to destructive behavior.”

The heated exchanges have focused attention on the high-risk decision by McCain to keep his flagging presidential hopes alive by resorting to negative tactics. Much of the sharpest attacks have come from Palin, who has demonstrated her self-designated skills as a political pitbull on several occasions.

In one rally Palin accused Obama of “palling around with terrorists,” in another she said he was “not a man who sees America the way you and I see America.”

The comments have prompted individuals in the Republican crowds to shout, presumably in reference to Obama, “Kill him!” and “Off with his head!”

Palin made no effort to rebut the hecklers, and it prompted the influential New York Times columnist Frank Rich to complain that “to stay silent is to pour gas on the fires.”

The criticism of the tone of the McCain campaign comes at an already difficult moment for the Republican presidential hopeful. National polls are showing an Obama lead of between six and 11 points, with several key swing states such as Pennsylvania and Virginia also leaning towards the Democratic candidate.

With just three full weeks to go until polling day, McCain is now up against the clock in his struggle to find a message with voters that will stick. He has found it particularly difficult to hold a coherent line amid the raging financial crisis that is dominating the election debate. In recent days he has put forward a raft of financial interventions that go against his earlier stance of reducing the scope of the government.

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