Decent Family Men

Forty-four years ago this spring, my mother loosed a weekly stream of invective against Sen. Robert F. Kennedy (D-NY).  A conservative Irish Catholic who had voted for JFK, she thought Bobby had betrayed his earlier, hard-line anti-Communist stance, then carpet-bagged his way in to the Senate.  Now she saw his presidential campaign as more political opportunism.

A few weeks after my seventh birthday, Mom called my brother and I one morning and told us Sen. Kennedy had been murdered the night before.  “I know you’ve heard me say a lot of things about him,” she said, “but I never, never wanted this to happen.  We can disagree, but this is not how we settle disputes in our country.  He has a wife and children and my heart goes out to them.  We should say prayers for him and his family.”

That’s my first political memory; it clearly left an impression.  I’ve been thinking about that lately, not merely because the anniversary of Sen. Kennedy’s death, but because I’m worried about Barack Obama.

No wonder he went so easy on the Secret Service after the Colombia debacle.  He’s going to need those guys.  Why now, more so than in 2008?  What’s the difference?  The difference is Mr. Obama’s first term in office.

In 2008, Mr. Obama was the first black major party candidate.  Perhaps people thought he wouldn’t win.  Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), although he ran a fierce campaign, did not engage in race baiting.  When one of his supporters referred to Mr. Obama as “an Arab,” Mr. McCain took the microphone away from her and quickly contradicted her, calling Mr. Obama “a decent family man.”

That was then.  In the years since, we’ve seen members of the Republican Party and the right wing media heckling Mr. Obama during a State of the Union address and in the middle of a Rose Garden press event.

These groups have misrepresented Mr. Obama’s religion and nationality.  He’s been called a socialist and caricatures blending his face with Adolf Hitler’s are prominently displayed at Tea Party rallies.

Four years of 24/7 thinly veiled racism and dog whistle calls to violence and now Mr. Obama has to go out and hit the campaign trail for the next four months.  Well, this is politics and politics ain’t beanbag, right?  Right.

There is, however, a difference between right and wrong.  There’s the First Amendment that protects hateful and untruthful speech and one’s own sense of morality and fair play that should tell decent people when to stop talking.

Four years of exaggerated statements about how Mr. Obama is a Kenyan-born militant Muslim socialist who is supposedly ruining America and some of the more unhinged elements in our society might feel justified – or even ordained by God – to  take action that is violent and wrong and unfortunately, all too American.

John McCain was right.  Barack Obama is a decent family man, as is Mitt Romney.  The rest of the Republican Party and all of Fox News would do well to keep decency in their thoughts for the near future.

© Mark Floegel, 2012

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