Russell: This fire might not die tomorrow

On this last day of the campaign, we’re supposed to be scared of both candidates. By now we’ve heard each candidate tell us more times than we can remember that the other is too risky. Obama, we’ve been told, would be a risky choice because of his associations and inexperience, McCain because of his seat-of-the-pants decision-making.

But only one candidate has actively and dangerously stoked these fears, which may leave a deep, long-term divide between the parties and their supporters, and even within the country.

Crowds at McCain’s and Palin’s rallies have recently begun to get heated, and not with the civil “Obama’s economic policy sucks!”-type of heat that is at least loosely based on substance. Rather, crowds have become hateful, seething and downright vulgar, calling Obama anti-Christian and anti-American and a terrorist. Observers have even heard, at multiple events, shouts of “Kill him!”

These hostilities have come as McCain and Palin have ranted about Obama’s associations, even saying he has “palled around with terrorists.” They’ve argued they’re “leaving it up to the voters” to make their own decisions, but in reality they’re allowing hard-line social conservatives to stew in hateful ignorance.

Talk radio and shock-jocks have come to adore the line, “if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck …” McCain and Palin have used the line to lead their audiences to believe that … Obama must be a duck? Hardly. “If Obama associates with terrorists …” “If Obama associates with ACORN …”

These open-ended questions with barely veiled implications have manifested a core of hate-mongers who believe Obama is a terrorist, Obama is anti-Christian, Obama is hiring rogue community-organizers to adulterate the vote. Even that Obama is so anti-American that he must be killed. These conclusions are not OK. They are frightening and intolerable.

I acknowledge that this group is a minority of McCain supporters. And, yes, McCain acted properly — perhaps, you could say, like a maverick — when he corrected one of his supporters who called Obama “an Arab.”

But neither McCain nor, especially, Palin are taking responsibility for the conclusions they have led their supporters to reach. Instead they have suggested they bear no accountability for the independent thoughts of their base. While it is true that we are all independent thinkers, it is also true that without the lit match there would be no fire.

I am afraid the fire is a signal of the intense culture clash of the country — a clash whose chasm is growing deeper and deeper and the bottom of which (like our economy) won’t be found for some time. I am disappointed in McCain for allowing these conclusions to be drawn. And we must be honest: He had conscious choices. I wish McCain would man up, take responsibility and be the maverick he claims he is by finally tempering his base.

The actions of McCain’s crowds have suggested there are many McCain supporters not voting for McCain but against Obama, afraid of an Obama presidency because of clear, calculated and divisive tactics that McCain has come to rely upon.

I am afraid it may be too late to repair the damage, even if Obama wins today. The conclusions have been drawn, the fear has been voiced and the fire is blazing. Whatever McCain, Palin or their surrogates say now will only be a drop of water on a bonfire.

The strides our country has taken during this campaign have been wide, and a divided country would be an unfortunate and unnecessary casualty of the campaign. The challenges that our country faces after the ballots have been cast will not be overcome if we do not see our future as a means for collaboration.

I conclude by urging you today to not vote out of risk, but out of reward: Vote for who would be the best president, not against who you think would be the worst. And tomorrow, whatever the outcome, unite around a common cause — our future.

Lauren Russell is a senior in Davenport College.

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