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McCain's nuclear strategy: past as prologue

Today on Salon, Gary Kamiya makes a convincing connection between John McCain's new win-at-all-costs strategy and the approach Barry Goldwater used during the final days of his '64 run against Lyndon Johnson:

In fall 1964, Barry Goldwater was tanking in the polls, hammered by the media and by his Democratic opponent, Lyndon Johnson, as a radical who might start a nuclear war and would threaten cherished social programs like Social Security. As Rick Perlstein relates in "Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus," Goldwater realized that he needed to scare Americans. So he turned away from his high-minded speeches about freedom and started talking incessantly about moral decay and social unrest -- subjects that had never been raised by a presidential candidate before.

To spread its message about scary blacks and moral rot, the Goldwater campaign let loose a bare-knuckle political operative named Rus Walton, who "was possessed of an almost desperate need to burn conservative truths into an audience's heart by whatever means worked -- high or low, fair or foul." Walton's staff cranked out brochures depicting black Harlemites caught in the act of smashing windows and attacking policemen, with captions like "Lyndon Johnson's Administration Is Too Busy Protecting Itself to Protect You." Another brochure read, "Are you safe on the streets? What about your wife? Your kids? Your property? What about after dark? Why should we have to be afraid? This is America!" A poster linked government with race riots, braying, "Government officials make millions while in public service. They let crime run riot in the streets ..."

Goldwater commissioned a bizarre documentary film, "Choice," that interwove images of a speeding Cadillac, wild revelers, shapely, twisting derrieres, civil rights protests, naked breasts, and criminals resisting arrest. Over these images Raymond Massey intoned, "Now there are two Americas. One is words like 'allegiance' and 'Republic' ... The other America -- the other America is no longer a dream but a nightmare." It was the first shot fired in what would later come to be called the culture wars. (Goldwater chickened out and disavowed the film.)...

There are some uncanny parallels between Goldwater's campaign and McCain's. The American right has come full circle in 44 years, with two allegedly maverick senators from Arizona playing bookend roles, one at the beginning, one perhaps at the end. Goldwater was the prophet of modern conservatism, but he came too early. For his part, McCain may have come too late. He may be remembered as the last, failed Republican candidate to use the GOP's four-decade-old strategy of attacking big government, demonizing liberals and mobilizing white resentment of blacks. 

What's that? You don't see the racial tinge of McCain's campaign? Well, it was there in the narcissism argument, the disrespectful black man ad, and the wolves-vs.-Sarah Palin spot. It's all over this flier from Bobby May, McCain's campaign chairman in Buchanan County, VA. (Did you know Obama plans to hire Ludacris to paint the White House black, and to use new tax revenues to buy drugs for his "inner-city base"?) And it was there during a recent Sarah Palin appearance in Clearwater, Florida, according to the Washington Post's Dana Milbank:

Palin's routine attacks on the media have begun to spill into ugliness. In Clearwater, arriving reporters were greeted with shouts and taunts by the crowd of about 3,000. Palin then went on to blame Katie Couric's questions for her "less-than-successful interview with kinda mainstream media." At that, Palin supporters turned on reporters in the press area, waving thunder sticks and shouting abuse. Others hurled obscenities at a camera crew. One Palin supporter shouted a racial epithet at an African American sound man for a network and told him, "Sit down, boy."

This is ugly, toxic stuff. Let's that the press as a whole is willing to call out McCain and his surrogates--and recognizes that these attacks are fundamentally different than, say, Obama focusing on the Keating Five.

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