Chicago Sun Times: Stoking fear of The Other

McCain’s extreme tactics against Obama rooted in antiquity

Ten thousand years ago, there was you and your family and the group of people you slept with in a pile for warmth at night.

And then there were The Others.

The Others were the scary outsiders who were not you, not your family, not your tribe. They looked different, smelled different, spoke differently and might kill you if they came upon you.

Unless you killed them first.

This primordial fear underlies all nationalism, all racism, all reluctance to accept those not in your group, on your team, with your company, from your neighborhood.

Like all fears, it has its uses, and humanity took thousands of years to inch away from it. The story of the modern world is the story of overcoming fear of The Other — learning to speak together, to work together, to trade, to interact, despite differences. That’s why your clothes come from Guatemala and your neighbor is from Ukraine and we have a black man running for president.

But don’t be fooled by our modern veneer. Don’t be blinded by the glow from all those hand-held electronic devices. Fear of The Other is deep in the bones of many, and it boils up under duress.

It is the reason the McCain campaign, at a moment of incredible national crisis, is focusing on trivialities: Barack Obama’s old preacher; a 1960s radical who once held a coffee for him; his foreign roots.

“This is not a man who sees America as you see America and as I see America,” Sarah Palin said.

This explains the intense anger directed toward Obama, so mystifying otherwise. They’re afraid. Vlad the Impaler could run for president and he couldn’t be portrayed as a dangerous outside force in terms more extreme than those being used to describe this rather benign and, to be honest, bland former University of Chicago law professor.

When McCain wins, as I believe he will, it will be because he played upon the deepest fears of those Americans who miss the past with a passion, who think this would be a wonderful world if only everybody thought exactly like they do and prayed exactly like they do and looked exactly like they do, the way it was in the good old days, 10,000 years ago.

Columnist admits

It turns out I’m a terrorist.

Or at least I have terrorist ties, and really, this nation is so afraid, we hardly distinguish between the two anymore.

And here I was feeling extra Jewish lately. Had a good Yom Kippur. Maybe it’s just that my rabbi, the buoyant and articulate Eitan Weiner-Kaplow, was on fire. Maybe that made our synagogue, Shir Hadash, extra warm and welcoming. Maybe I’m just getting soft and embracing religion more, as men do as they age.

But driving the boys home midday on Thursday, I actually considered dropping them off and returning to join my wife for the afternoon services. A first for me.

And now Friday morning, I learn that I, like Barack Obama, am connected to a supposedly shady Islamic group: the Council of American-Islamic Relations, which, according to the Wall Street Journal, has been “cited by the government in the past for ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas.”

Golly. About a year ago, I printed something snarky about Egypt, and the executive director of the Chicago office of CAIR, Ahmed Rehab, who was born there, registered his displeasure. Unlike so many other patriotic Americans, however, he did so politely and intelligently, so I asked him to lunch.

We had a good talk and were basically on the same page, both believing that the security of this country depends not on how fearful and repressive we become, but how strongly we support our ideal that America is a nation of parts, that people who work hard and obey the law should live their lives unmolested, no matter what faith they adhere to, even if that faith is one such as Islam, with a radical fringe that has done terrible things.

So I not only have the same ties as the Obama campaign — which sent a representative to a CAIR meeting — but in a sense I’m worse because I picked up the check.

My God, in the government’s eyes, I’m funding terrorism! People have gone to prison for less.

I shouldn’t laugh. This is the same government, remember, that put Americans who participated in peace rallies on terrorist watch lists.

Guilt by association was big in the 1950s, when your father’s attendance at a communist meeting could scuttle your career. Are we to go back there? Will that bring security or peace?

If I recall, the troubles in Northern Ireland were not put to rest without the involvement of the Irish Republican Army, which buried its guns and entered politics. I don’t see how we’re ever going to have Mideast peace if anybody who sits in a room with somebody who ever met someone who works for a suspect group then becomes tainted. Even Nixon met with Khrushchev, and nobody called him a commie.

Out and about

The biggest compliment you can pay a celebrity is to leave ’em alone. A personal rule that was tested Friday, when I stood up after yet another lovely lunch at RL, this one with my pal Lee Flaherty, and noticed Robert Duvall sitting in the next booth. I took a second look, to be certain it wasn’t just a guy who looks like Robert Duvall. Then I exited into the glorious autumn day.

I’m not sure the purpose of such an item — part to brag, part to report. Having basked in the glow of reflected fame, I convey a bit of the warmth to you. And heck, if some people can make a career out of this sort of thing, I can do it once. Today’s chuckle

Why is it only now that I realize that all you have to do is remove the last letter from “broker” to leave you with “broke.”

Copyright © 2008 Chicago Sun Times