Afflict the comfortable ’08

During his first run for the presidency in 2000, John McCain told a group of reporters,“I hated the gooks. I will hate them as long as I live.” The former POW later insisted he was referring to his captors in Vietnam, but he made a similarly unexamined gaffe in January of this year during the Republican primary debate when he said, “I’m not interested in trading with Al Qaida. All they want to trade is burkas.”

(To clarify: “gooks” is a derivative term for Asians that most thinking people jettisoned with the word “nigger” decades ago, and burkas are garments worn in public by Muslim women and not typically the subject of terrorist groups’ trade efforts.)

Friday night in Mississippi, McCain never made eye contact with Sen. Barack Obama, which inspired a Jimmy Kimmel bit Monday that asked, “Why won’t John McCain look at black people?” It would have been funny had it not been so close to the truth, and during the debate, it wasn’t McCain’s words so much as his body language that revealed the man’s Caucasian highlights. Standing off by himself, the senator from Arizona appeared to be a gated community unto himself, brimming with gin and tonic and the hissing of endless summer lawns and eternally tan trophy wives.

But it’s not just people of color McCain seems to be uncomfortable with. Now he and his running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin, have taken to demonizing the media, which of course means they are demonizing you and me and we the people, most of whom still subscribe to journalism’s first commandment of comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

It’s the same bunker mentality that got us into the current financial nightmare, the occupation in Iraq, etc. And while it’s no secret that the debate wasn’t exactly edifying, if you sifted through the monotones diligently enough, one fundamental difference between the two candidates emerged: McCain, a former war prisoner, is vehemently distrustful of the world, and so he calls it names and circles the wagons. Time and again he snickered at the idea of diplomacy over military force in dealing with our enemies, which sounded alarmingly like the saber-rattling of an insecure hothead determined to writ large his legacy as a wartime president.

Meanwhile, Sen. Barack Obama, a self-contained man of peace who made his way as a community organizer, student, and attorney, listened to his colleague’s points. Sometimes he agreed. There are History Channel devotees who will view such open-mindedness as a sign of weakness, but Obama obviously follows the credo “everyone you meet is your teacher,” and I agree with William Bennet’s post-debate assessment about Obama being “intellectually generous” — a term that will never be applied to McCain or his fellow ostrich, George W. Bush.

The long and short of it is that one man has been damaged by the world and distrusts it greatly. The other has been emboldened by it and trusts his fellow man greatly. I know which one I trust, which worldview I want my kids growing up with, and which version of humanity I’m voting for.

Postscript: I grew up in South Minneapolis. One summer in the early ’70s, my mother put up a sign on our Colfax Avenue lawn that read “White Racism Must Go.” It stood there for a week, and she took it down after some threatening phone calls came to the house. Today, a few blocks over, a well-manicured mansion on Colfax sports two signs: “McCain/Palin” and “Another Family For McCain.” Last weekend, seven Mexican laborers worked on the house, making it look for all the old world like a plantation at cotton harvest.

Spare me the socioeconomic lectures and throw the bums out, already.

Jim Walsh is a Middle-aged White Biped For Obama who lives in East Harriet.