In his book, “Gook: John McCain’s Racism and Why It Matters,” author Irwin A. Tang details the long arc of McCain’s antipathy toward people of color. One example: For 30 years, McCain was unrepentant about using the word “gook” to describe Vietnamese people – a reference he picked up as a prisoner-of-war in Vietnam. Two other examples: In 1983, McCain voted against establishing a national holiday for Martin Luther King, Jr.; and in 1999, McCain gave his full support to South Carolina’s flying of the Confederate flag, which he called “a symbol of heritage” even though civil rights groups urged the flag’s removal for its association with slavery and black lynchings.
McCain practices a kind of “public racism,” according to Tang, who published his book in 2008, just in time for a presidential election in which McCain made utterances that were considered racist or (at the very least) extremely inappropriate. In his October 7 debate with Barack Obama, McCain referred to his rival as “that one” – a put-down that offended many people, including Pittsburgh writer Don Hammonds, who said, “Regardless of intent, it showed Senator McCain to be culturally ignorant, and completely unaware of the implications of what his off-the-cuff statement meant to people of color. Whether Senator McCain meant it that way or not, if you are a person of color, and someone trots out the ‘that one’ remark, you instantly take it as racist. I know that I did.”
McCain’s 2008 campaign was full of “that one” moments – not just in plain public view but on the periphery, where his supporters willfully exhibited their racism for video cameras, as evident at this Ohio rally in October of 2008 (captured by Al Jazeera), where a McCain supporter called Obama either a “negro” or “nigger”:
Then there’s this McCain rally in Denver, where young children – obviously influenced by their parents – made monkey sounds to belittle Obama, then appear to point to a sign that portrays Obama as a primate from Africa:
This is the context in which to consider Joe Wilson’s “you lie!” comment and the subsequent national debate about racism and opposition to Obama’s policies. In last year’s presidential campaign, the racism directed at Obama was coded and not-so-coded. When the Wall Street Journal ran an on-line piece about McCain’s “that one” remark, a reader named “None Yun” posted this:
If the Black Beast gets into office, may he be immediately taken down and out.”
The comment – a not-so-subtle call for Obama’s assassination – is still on the Wall Street Journal’s site. Why? That’s for the newspaper to answer. It shows that anti-Obama racists are unafraid to voice their true feelings, whether it’s to a prestigious national newspaper or to a video crew from Al Jazeera. Wilson’s public outburst was just the manic tic of a man who has the support of people like “None Yun” and others who believe Obama doesn’t deserve to sit in the White House. These people badly wanted John McCain to win. In lieu of that, they use the N-word to flaunt their hatred of Obama and support of Joe Wilson. In his political past, McCain himself supposedly used the N-word in referring to blacks, setting in motion a tolerance for the crude remarks that continue to be aimed at the nation’s 44th president.