October 29, 2008

From Countdown, Monday Oct. 27, 2008. Keith tells John McCain that he needs to speak out against those who would use Friday's racist hoax attack perpetrated by Ashley Todd as a means to re-open the racial divide in America.

Transcript available here:

OLBERMANN: Finally, a "Campaign Comment" about the fraudulent race attack claim since acknowledged and recanted by a John McCain campaign volunteer in Pennsylvania. You know the story well, by now. It's a sad and demoralizing tale of a woman who could be summarized by the awful term B actress. Ashley Todd was not sexually assaulted by a big black man. He did not carve the letter B on her face to punish her for supporting John McCain.

It apparently never dawned on her it resembled less a cut than an abrasion done by a weapon no more sinister than a nail file. She was not even at the ATM where she claimed the attack took place. It apparently never dawned on her that the machine had security video and she would not be on it. And clearly, somewhere in her mind was a calculation that a story like this one with layer upon layer of racial threat could be some kind of game changer for the presidential candidate she worked to get elected in at least two states for at least two months. Her saga is pathetic. She now claims mental illness. If this too is not true, Miss Todd might think she's pulling another fast one over on the rest of us. In fact her claim seems to be accurate, whether she knows it or not.

And much more disturbingly, so was her calculation. At least until her story, in retrospect a ludicrous confection, fell apart and she had to confess her crime. She had inspired dozens, perhaps hundreds of journalists and bloggers and all those in between on both political sides to stand over this nation's ever present tinderbox of racial prejudice and racial fear and racial hatred. And she had brought them all matches. We already know what the executive vice president of Fox News had written while his organization was perched next to that tinderbox waiting for the slightest excuse to light it and our nation ablaze. The over the top, caveat thrown in for window dressing balance with not the slightest intention that it ever be taken seriously. Quote, "If the incident turns out to be a hoax Senator McCain's quest for presidency is over, forever linked to race-baiting." That is the well-known part of what John Moody wrote. What preceded it was far less publicized and far more important. "Part of the appeal of, and the unspoken tension behind, Senator Obama's campaign," he wrote, "is his transformational status as the first African-American to win a major party's presidential nomination. That does not mean that he has erased the mutual distrust between black and white Americans and this incident could become a watershed event in the 11 days before the election.

If Ms. Todd's allegations are proven accurate, some voters may revisit their support for Senator Obama, not because they are racists, with due respect to Representative John Murtha, but because they suddenly feel they do not know enough about the Democratic nominee."

Moody wrote that. It wouldn't be racism to suddenly blame Barack Obama for an attack on a white woman by a black man intending to punish her for not supporting another black man. It would instead by a watershed moment because it somehow meant, "They suddenly feel they do not know enough about the Democratic nominee." Its only connection would have been racial. But the response would not be racism. The tinderbox again, and a very large match provided by John Moody. I know that man. He is not stupid. Not careless. He has in fact an education background identical to my own, right down to the same college radio station. He knew what he was writing. A rationalization for racism. That Moody should be fired goes without saying. But if not fired that he should resign in shame is also obvious. Neither will happen because there is no one of sufficient authority to reproach him. And the others, who but for Ashley Todd's inability to maintain her inner hoaxster for more than two days would have solemnly and grimly and some secretly, happily set this presidential campaign on its ear and knocked this nation's tenuous grip on the relationship between the races off its axis. Because there was nobody to say, "No. Don't." This is where you come in, Senator McCain. No histrionics from me to you this time, Senator. No yelling. Just a plea. Say something about this. Now. Say something strongly and succinctly about the unacceptability of what happened, and how some of your supporters tried to exploit it. I am not asking you to assume the responsibility for this. No matter how your campaign pushed this story, I have no doubt that in the mirror image scenario many of Senator Obama's supporters would have done the same. But I also have no doubt that by this point in that mirror image scenario, Senator Obama would have said something to try to stop the next Ashley Todd, or the next John Moody. Senator, of all the things I don't like about you or your campaign, I have never thought you a racist. As imperfect as was your moment with that Minnesota woman mumbling about Arabs, I thought it was the finest moment of your campaign. I believe that you feel as I do, that racial prejudice and hatred have no place in this campaign, nor in this country. I believe that you feel as I do, as Clarence Darrow said in a different time and a different context, "I am pleading for the future. I am pleading for a time when hatred and cruelty will not control the hearts of men. When we can learn by reason and judgment and understanding and faith." Sometimes, Senator McCain, it is as if we are almost there. And then some unthinking act like the one by that Ashley Todd throws us back against the rocks and we barely escape with our ship intact. In that time of foundering, Senator McCain, far too few of us have a chance to personally right the ship. To heal instead of to stand idly by. To make a difference in this oldest and most wearying of our struggles as a nation. This chance, sir, is yours. Say something. Or better yet, say something with Senator Obama, about race and how we live with one another and how we can. Let this last week of the campaign be remembered, no matter how it turns out next Tuesday, as something other than the time Ashley Todd lied, and the John Moodys threatened, and you said nothing. Senator McCain, once again, grab the microphone. Thank you.

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