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Restore the Wetlands. Reinforce the Levees.

Abnormal Psychology: Days of Rage in a Fact-Free Zone


How many times my friends have the pundits written off the McCain campaign? We’re gonna fool ’em again. We’re gonna fool ’em one more time!
—John McCain | La Crosse, Wisc. | Oct. 10, 2008

LNW_McCain.rageDid he really say that? We had to play it back several times to be sure. (Check it here, on NBC Nightly News.) John McCain says he’s going to win the White House by fooling us? This comes just a week after his campaign aides acknowledged they couldn’t win by talking about the economy, and just days after an apparent Hanoi Hilton flashback in which he addressed a crowd as “my fellow prisoners.” • Even his fellow Republicans are alarmed about his grip on reality and the potential for violence. (See remarks by Gergen and Weaver below.) McCain spent the week trashing Barack Obama—his TV ads are now 100% negative—letting Sarah Palin accuse a U.S. senator of “palling around with terrorists” (a charge gladly echoed by Fox), and whipping their supporters into a frenzy of shouts of “Traitor!”, “Off with his head!”, and worse. Republican Frank Schaeffer writes in the Baltimore Sun, “I accuse you of deliberately feeding the most unhinged elements of our society the red meat of hate. . . . Stop! Think! Your rallies are beginning to look, sound, feel and smell like lynch mobs.”

One of the hottest rants was by a man at a McCain rally in Waukesha, Wisc., whose voice was broadcast repeatedly by Rush Limbaugh:

I’m mad! I’m really mad! . . . And what’s going to surprise ya, is it’s not the economy—it’s the socialists taking over our country. . . . When you have an Obama, Pelosi and the rest of the hooligans up there gonna run this country, we gotta have our head examined!

As above, so below. We’re a little uneasy about exploring the abnormal psychology of the McCain-Palin campaign. It’s scary in the dark, but it’s clear that the crowd’s rage echoes the temper McCain has shown throughout his life. The sources of McCain’s anger and the people’s may differ, but his evident disdain for Obama and his campaign’s “blizzard of lies” have liberated the mob to vent their fear and resentment. Their anger—much of it cranked up by Limbaugh & co.—derives in part from worries about lost jobs and money and terrorism, and dislike of dark-skinned people generally.

McCain’s anger, however, has other sources. He has reason to be frustrated lately, to be sure, but the temper for which he is famous—as attested to by Republican acquaintances in Brave New Films’s video “McCain’s Rage” and in the devastating exposé “Make-Believe Maverick”—stems from his natural-born temperament. As Tim Dickinson writes in Rolling Stone:

Even as a toddler, McCain recalls in Faith of My Fathers, his volcanic temper was on display. “At the smallest provocation,” he would hold his breath until he passed out: “I would go off in a mad frenzy, and then, suddenly, crash to the floor unconscious.”

We’re not qualified to analyze all the sources of John McCain’s anger, but it is clear that the hostility so raucously vocalized at his rallies is encouraged by a campaign that deliberately lies to its supporters, brazenly accusing its opponent of consorting with terrorists. The McCain campaign has long been a fact-free zone, so raw passions are unleashed, unchecked by reason. They are angry because they feel they’re losing this election, because McCain isn’t fighting back viciously enough, and because they’re afraid a dark-skinned maybe-Muslim will convert their beloved USA into a socialist state. Listen to the misinformation regurgitated by McCain-Palin supporters here and here. Where do they get these notions?

George Packer observed in The New Yorker that “the Republican ticket is making sure that, if Obama wins, he’ll be regarded as an illegitimate and dangerous President by thirty or forty per cent of the country.” Presidential adviser David Gergen, always reliable as a moderate voice of reason, commented on Anderson Cooper 360, “There is a free-floating sort of whipping-around anger that could really lead to some violence. And I think we’re not far from that.” And former top McCain strategist John Weaver, likely aiming at McCain’s Rove-trained campaign team, decried the inflammatory rhetoric:

People need to understand, for moral reasons and the protection of our civil society, the differences with Sen. Obama are ideological, based on clear differences on policy. . . . And from a purely practical political vantage point, please find me a swing voter, an undecided independent, or a torn female voter that finds an angry mob mentality attractive.

We hope that in the next debate Obama will challenge McCain to say to his face what he and his surrogates have been saying at a safe distance. (Obama and Biden have already suggested as much this week.) “If there’s something you want the American people to know, Senator McCain, let them hear it now. Otherwise, hold your peace. Enough.”


While we’re on the subject of campaign operatives distracting voters from matters of substance, we recommend a new book by our friend Dr. Bryant Welch, State of Confusion: Political Manipulation and the Assault on the American Mind, praised as “fascinating and compelling” by Democratic strategist Robert Shrum and called “vitally important and highly readable” by law professor Laurence Tribe. State of Confusion explores how political “gaslighters”—mostly Republicans—manipulate voters’ envy, paranoia, and insecurities about sexual identity. Dr. Welch is a clinical psychologist in Hilton Head, S.C., and served as an advisor to the Clintons’ health reform initiative in 1993.


We are cautiously optimistic that Obama will win this election. Even if he does win, in addition to the many awesome challenges facing the next president and the public, one of the priorities for the informed citizenry will be to restore the vitality of the nation’s schools; to honor learning and free inquiry; to publicly show respect for science and reason; and to discourage the cynical political reflex of vilifying the news media and manipulating public animosity toward reporters and other gatherers and sharers of information and, sometimes, truth.

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