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The candidate as rabble-rouser

By Roger Ebert

Sarah Palin seems giddy with her newfound power as a rabble-rouser. She's using her charm to stir crowds of supporters toward hate. Have you been listening? What frightens me is that she is inciting to violence, which is a felony. Why do I say this? Because supporters have been videotaped at her rallies, screaming "kill him!" "traitor!" "off with his head!" and "terrorist!" At one rally, they started screaming at an African-American TV cameraman, using the n-word. The Secret Service is investigating some of these threats.

Did Palin observe these crowd reactions? Read her body language. She uses the tiniest of smiles and briefest of pauses we all use when we want to signal, "I hear you but I'm pretending not to." She uses the same sound bites at every speech, and they get similar responses. Like demagogues before her, she draws energy from the mob. She doesn't care what she's saying. She can't stop herself. She loves the applause. Don't for a moment assume she would be allowed to use those words in every speech if John McCain hadn't signed off on them.

What would a decent politician do? The same thing that all decent politicians of both parties have always done: Defuse the hate speech. Calm things down. Tell the wingnuts to chill out. When was the last time you heard a political nominee of either major party accused of treason? You'd have to go back to Joe McCarthy.

McCarthy liked the phrase "card-carrying." Palin's husband, Todd, was a card-carrying member of the Alaskan Independence Party, which calls for Alaska to secede from the United States and seize control of its own oil and gas resources. Then who would defend those resources against Russia? The National Guard?

You may have the vague impression that was a long time ago. In fact Palin taped a greeting to the party's convention this year, 2008. “Keep up the good work, and God bless you," she said, according to the New York Times, a source she respects. If you search for "Palin addresses AIP" on YouTube, you'll find 102 videos listed. Not surprisingly, all of them have been taken down. You can see the empty spaces for yourself. What did she say? Why doesn't she want us to know?

We live in dangerous times. We are vulnerable to demagogues. In the 20th century, they flourished in periods of national economic collapse. They blamed their country's plight on outsiders. Palin routinely says of Obama, "this is not a man who sees America the way you and I see America." Who are you and I supposed to be? Ask the cameraman.

Footnote at 6:30 p.m. CST Friday Oct. 10: John McCain has done the decent thing I mentioned, telling a crowd this afternoon, "Senator Obama is a decent person and a person that you do not have to be scared about as President of the United States." The New York Times reported, "The crowd booed loudly at Mr. McCain’s response." The link is here:

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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