Excuse me? Yeah, you heard it right. Last night, during the presidential debate between Barack Obama and John McCain, the Republican referred to his Democratic rival as “that one.”
Was this a peak into McCain’s head and his inability to see Obama as an equal, as a human? Was it politically bad? Was it racist?
The Obama campaign apparently began sending around feeler emails almost immediately to some (many?) of their allies–while the debate was still happening!–to see if there was a sense of disgust or outrage developing because of McCain’s choice of words. The lack of much discussion of “it” suggests, perhaps, most didn’t care.
Bloggers (some of whom are likely on the email recipient list of the Obama camp) have been commenting on McCain’s word choice since last night, as a review of The Huffington Post shows. Alec Sokolow wrote “That one? THAT ONE??? Like Barack Obama’s subhuman. Like Barack Obama’s an animal. Not like an elected Senator. Not like the potential future President of the United States.” Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks dismissed the “racist” analysis as he commented “it was just more awkward than anything else.” Not one of the attendees at an Indianapolis “swing state” debate party also attended by journalist Christina Bellatoni even seemed to catch the slip of the tongue. Writer and director Nora Ephron found the gaff “patronizing and revealing” while Arianna Huffington suggested the senior’s choice of words communicated “contempt [that was] palpable.”
I tend to side with the “contempt camp,” viewing McCain’s choice of words as reflective of his seemingly endless disgust of his opponent. That isn’t to say I think it is free of racial overtones. The comment is dehumanizing, not even employing a personal pronoun to refer to another human being. I don’t know if the level of disgust rises that qucikly for the oldtimer if Obama isn’t black. But, there is no way of knowing.
What we can see and learn from this is that McCain has very little physical control over anger and contempt. He isn’t able to hide how he feels about his political opponent–to be, in effect, politic–when he is running for a job in which he will have to do so with “leaders” who make Obama (or almost any politician in the U.S.) look like Pipi Longstocking.
What this also helps voters see (if they’re looking) is tangible evidence of the reputation which has followed McCain for almost his entire career. He is known as an aggressive, emotionally uncontrollable, stubborn, and self-righteous politician, from those who know him and those who like him, as well as those he has offended in his nearly three decades in Washington.
Now in the twilight of a long career, a young black man is standing in front of McCain’s legacy, one the man thought he should have tasted eight years ago. And he’s pissed off about it.