“That One” in ’08!

It’s nearly impossible to describe last night’s presidential debate as “thrilling” or “exciting” in any way. After a rather large dinner, I found myself often struggling to even stay awake during certain aspects of the tedious and uninspiring performances from both candidates. I’ll say that in hindsight Senator Obama did pull out the victory, but not because of his usual eloquence or flair… but because John McCain appeared flat and uninterested. However, there was one moment of the debate that caused me to take notice. As I sat on my couch, nodding off from a combination of too much dinner and a large gulp of NyQuil, I heard two words that shocked me back into life.

“There was an energy bill on the floor of the Senate loaded down with goodies, billions for the oil companies, and it was sponsored by Bush and Cheney. You know who voted for it? You might never know. That one!”

Did I just hear that correctly? Did John McCain just call Barack Obama “That One” on a nationally televised debate? I snatched up the remote, rewound the broadcast and sure enough, there it was. Senator Barack Obama, a man just footsteps away from becoming the leader of the free world, had been referred to as “That One” by his senate colleague on a national stage. In a body that prides itself on rules, courtesy and respect through differing opinions, this type of language is completely foreign to our political process, not to mention quite unbecoming of a United States Senator. While we may fiercely disagree, we still commend our opponents and unwaveringly refer to them as “the gentleman from (insert state)” at every turn. So yes, this was jarring.

During the hunger strikes in the north of Ireland, I saw – in the midst of some chaos – a young man ( a kid, really) shout out “murdering bastards” at some British soldiers. The one soldier screamed, “WHO SAID IT? WHO?” and another pointed at the kid and said, in a voice that was utterly like McCain’s – dead and with inhuman contempt – “THAT one”, pointing to this kid.

They beat the kid bloody. When McCain spoke those words, it was like a weird post traumatic moment for me. I’d not forgotten about the incident but it had faded. However, those words were absolutely burned into my memory; I could hear them clearly as though the man was in my room.

– KibbutzAmiad

More disturbing than the actual phrase is the reaction that such language can cause in an already hyper-charged electorate. I don’t personally believe that Senator McCain intended to convey any sort of racist overtone with his choice of words, I believe that they were quite simply poorly chosen words shot straight from the hip. Senator McCain is angry. He is watching his presidential aspirations slip away, his reputation now bogged down in the mire of brutally negative campaigning and his future as leader of the Republican Party wilting on the vine. In one moment, for one second, those frustrations slipped past his lips… and frankly if that’s the worst he has to say then we’re probably very fortunate.

However, it is this desperation and anger that has molded the McCain campaign into something I never saw coming. A man that once promised a mud-free campaign that sought only answers to questions and solutions to problems has now devolved into a firebombing slander machine, backed up by what might be the most vicious attack dog politician we’ve seen in our lifetime. McCain and Palin have worked to change the conversation in the last week, attempting to take our collective eyes off of the larger economic and military issues that face our nation, and refocus them on petty and often silly accusations of radicalism and terrorism within Obama’s camp. We’re all big boys and girls here. We all know that politics makes strange bedfellows. For every Reverend Wright or William Ayers that the McCain campaign tries to foist on the public at large, Obama could respond with the Alaskan Independence Party, Joel’s Army, John Hagee or the US Council for World Freedom. However, since Obama has chosen not to make issues of these associations (nor has the media that we’re told is “in the tank” for Obama), McCain’s barbs flounder around on the ground, occasionally striking a chord with a voter.

In a recent rally in Clearwater, Florida, Governor Palin’s rhetoric reached such a frenzy that an entire audience was whipped into a psychotic panic at the mere thought of a President Obama. To his name they replied, “KILL HIM!” To his mention they shouted “TERRORIST!” To the minority camera and boom operators, the real Joe Six Packs of the media, they shouted racial epithets… telling one African-American laborer to “Sit down, boy!” What is this? What have we become? Are we a nation of frothing, screaming racists? We pat ourselves on the back, applauding the “achievements” we’ve made as a society and laud our “progress” in race relations to the entire world… but did it simply take one legitimate African-American candidate to blow the wheels off of dormant racism in our nation and bring it all back to the surface?

I didn’t think of the remark as being ‘racist’. No, it was just inappropriately disrespectful of a colleague and the man that all signs indicate will soon be the leader of the country. It’s a term that belittles Obama, the office he holds, and the office he seeks. McCain’s open disdain for Obama is, in short, yet another sign that McCain’s temperament is poor

– RobBob

Now, we’re not supposed to inject race into the debate. We’re told that if we mention race then we’re playing the part of “the victim” and suggesting that all Republican voters are racist. Trust me, you could count the Republicans on one hand in the state of West Virginia… those 30% of the wild, wonderful state that openly admitted their prejudice were most likely Democrats. It seems that for several months, Barack Obama was a bit of a novelty to many white Americans. He was fun to watch, he was interesting, he was a great speaker… he was the Bill Cosby of our political system. Non-threatening, family friendly entertainment. However, as the possibility of our nation’s first black president begins to seem more and more real every day, the novelty is wearing thin.

The change in tone from the McCain campaign, while not entirely to blame for this issue, is doing what it can to stoke the flames at every turn. No one, not one single person, can tell me with a straight face that the re-invoking of Jeremiah Wright, the constant references to “domestic terrorists” and lines like “he doesn’t see the country the way that you and I do” aren’t loaded statements meant to remind us all that there is something “different” about Barack Obama. People will say, “Oh, it’s just stating facts and opinions, there is nothing racially charged about that!” They will say it, mind you, but they know differently. Even as they say it, they know that they’re covering, they know that they’re viewing the debate cynically and they know what’s going on. Hell, this happens in every election. We have code words for everything from “woman” to “jew” to “old” to “coward.” Artfully constructed terminology that subtly reminds voters that there is something specifically not White Christian Male about a certain candidate. This one just happens to be missing the “white” aspect of that equation.

That is what makes Senator McCain’s “that one” comment so disturbing. It isn’t a gaffe that slipped out early in the campaign in a casual conversation with a voter. It is a punch to the gut delivered on a national stage and now reported by the entire national media ad nauseum. I’m not John McCain… I don’t know if it was a tactical strike, an honest mistake or simply something that slipped out as he lost control. I don’t believe that John McCain is a racist… I will repeat that, I don’t believe that John McCain is a racist. However, over the last week I have come to believe one thing for certain: While he isn’t a racist, he will exploit any means necessary to win this election, even if that means winning on the backs of those who are.

My former mother-in-law was one of those. She gave me hell from the moment I walked into her son’s life until the day we parted ways. After she started drinking her gin in the evenings her liquid courage kicked in and the name calling began. It wasn’t limited to me but I was the only one around who was brown or strong willed. One would think that after ten years of being referred to as “that one” or “that woman” or “that girl” my skin would become so thick that nothing said, like those words, would ever make me feel less about myself or to feel hurt again.


– JaciDee

This kind of language can inflame tensions already boiling over in parts of our nation. This kind of language is divisive. This kind of language can get people hurt. So I close with this statement, realizing that it will never reach John McCain, but wishing that it would:

Senator McCain,

In my words above I included three quotes from members of different ethnic groups in our great nation, each hurt by your poor use of words. While I believe your comments to be accidental and in no way meant to incite violence, hatred or to demean an entire group of citizens, I do ask that you at least clarify your intent with the public at large… if not apologize. Right now your campaign is in a tail spin, and you’re fighting with all that you have to preserve a life-long dream. Believe me, I can understand that. However, if the rhetoric being spewed from your campaign, one that was launched on a platform of integrity and “straight talk,” begins to incite hatred and violence in our nation, is it really worth it?

I’m willing to accept the possibility that Governor Palin didn’t hear the racial epithets being bandied about during her rally in Florida, I’m willing to accept that she didn’t hear the direct threat on the life of your political rival, and I’m even willing to accept that you didn’t hear a member of your own audience call Senator Obama a “terrorist” (although the look on your face when the word is spoken indicates otherwise). I will, Senator McCain, accept that these instances flew under your radar between the roar of the crowd and the adrenaline of the moment. However, days later, I am certain that you have heard these comments repeated and that your campaign has made you aware of the controversy. Why have you not yet taken a stand against these horrific statements and the disgusting turn this race has taken?

Every day that you sit idly by, refusing to admonish your supporters that would threaten the life and well being of another candidate, you passively endorse this type of hatred. Every day that you refuse to call down the bigotry that is slowly becoming associated with your campaign while stumping throughout the nation and feeding the same talking points that inspired that bigotry to your faithful, you directly endorse this type of hatred. And one day, God forbid, should that hatred spew from the rhetorical side and into the physical side… whether it is directed at Senator Obama or one of his supporters… you will have blood on your hands should you choose not to address this issue in its infancy.

Senator McCain, a mad man is a mad man, and I’m aware that no condemnation from you or your staff will stop someone truly bent on violence from carrying out such an act. However, this passive endorsement of these racist attitudes allows those on the fence of madness to feel wholly justified in crossing over into the extreme. None of us are so blind as to assume that the first African-American President of the Unites States doesn’t face an extremely dangerous term in office, but that danger is real enough without passive endorsement from a rival candidate.

You once said “I would rather lose an election than lose a war.” Senator McCain, I ask you this… would you rather lose an election than fuel bitterness and hatred, divide our nation among racial lines and jeopardize the life of an innocent, good man with only the best of intentions for our nation? His views may not line up with yours, but his goal is noble and his intentions are good… and he damn well deserves more respect than to have his life threatened at your rallies and to be cut down as “That One” in your debates.

Voting “That One” in ’08,

Cory Graham


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20 Responses to ““That One” in ’08!”

  1. Jon Says:

    Thank you for saying this so eloquently — for discussing a subject that has bothered me for a very long time.

  2. Mac T Says:

    Civilized debate requires the use of a personal pronoun. McCain’s statement sounds like something that would be used when identifying a suspect in a police lineup or picking out a dog at the pound: “That one.” I think McCain’s use of “That one!” might just be his Macacca moment.

  3. singe Says:

    This use of phrase is of a piece with another McCain slight in the debate. When man of color asked a question about the economic crisis McCain launched into an answer in which he stated that the guy had probably never heard of Fanny Mae or Freddie Mack…the guy smiled. McCain assumed a person of color wouldn’t know about these organizations which have been so prominent in the economic news for the past month. McCain needs to not only lose the election but to resign from the senate as well.

  4. Soraya Winters Says:

    I am an American with Latino roots. In Spanish when you call someone THAT ONE — ESE/ESA you are not attributing humanity to that person. That one is a thing, an object, something that does not merit your respect. It was rude I found McCain’s statement very telling. And yes, I was offended.

  5. capnmike Says:

    SO WHAT? Why is it so important what a wizened old fart called Obama? He’s going to lose anyway. Y’all are making a big deal over nothing. Get Over It!

  6. Punky Alan Says:

    Nice piece, except I’m weary nearly to death of white folks on either side of the punditry seeking to assure everyone that McCain is no racist, and that this comment, added to his refusal to look Obama in the eye, or shake is hand, has nothing to do with racism. How on earth do you reach such a conclusion?

    Are we watching the same McCain campaign? I’m a middle-age white male (and I don’t know your ethnicity; I’m assuming what your apologist stance on McCain’s remarks indicates) , and I’ve seen ‘that McOne’s campaign do almost nothing *but* race-bait.

    I believe both he and Palin are very deliberately speaking to the only core they have left– ignorant bigots and corporate leaders, all of whom are emotionally invested in the outcome of ’08. And most anyone who’s ever spent time in the deep South knows racist code when they see it.

  7. Clemsy Says:

    Soraya Winters is correct. “That” refers to a thing. McCain is unable to not project his utter disdain for Obama.

    Imagine this man on the international stage.

  8. c. lindy Says:

    I have this take on the McCain blurb:

    Paraphrasing, he said, do you know who voted for that bill? … That one. At the same time, he motioned mechanically with his arm sliding it sideways, back and forth while pointing at Obama. Additionally, he had a sinister smile on his face and a wild eyed expression, almost as if he was demented. Futhermore, his blurb seemed to indicate that Obama was not worthy of having a name. McCain has demonstrated nothing but disdain for Obama all along.

    Add that to the rallies McCain and Palin are doing and its pretty easy to decipher they are purposely egging on the crowd. This week, Palin tried to incite anger by twisting the Obama, Ayers thing into Obama hanging around with a terrorist. (Kill him) was shouted from the crowd, plus racial slurs against a TV crew member occurred. Quite simply, we have the Secret Service protectively shadowing the two candidates. I’m sure they do not appreciate Palin making their jobs harder by inciting the nuts in the crowd. Consequently, all it takes is one nut worked into a frenzy by an untruthful Palin, that could end in tragedy.

  9. Steve Roberts Says:

    Soraya, you are right.

    This was an objectifying remark. “That one” refers to an object – “Him” refers to a person.

    It is definitely racist to dehumanize a person. I was reminded of George Bush Sr.’s calling his adopted Mexican grandchildren “the little brown ones”.

  10. ernieson Says:

    McCain’s body language (not looking at Obama and acting like he’d rather not touch him) and his condescending and disrespectful characterizations of Obama show that he harbors prejduce like so many of his generation.
    His and Palin’s comments of desperation incite the wingnuts to yell slurs and dangerous “kill him” remarks. Neither McCain nor Palin condemn the remarks meaning they condone them.

  11. RickD Says:

    For the record, George HW Bush’s “little brown ones” are the birth children of Jeb Bush and Jeb’s Mexican wife, whom Jeb met when he spent a year of high school in Mexico.

  12. c. lindy Says:

    I just heard on CNN that Palin is out today in Wisconsin demanding that Obama explain his association with Ayers and is now bringing up Rev. Wright and demanding answers about him too. McCain and Palin seem to be the only ones interested in Ayers and Wright, but they are going to make darn sure that it is dragged through the mud for a second time.

  13. Laura W Says:

    It is definitely racist to dehumanize a person. I was reminded of George Bush Sr.’s calling his adopted Mexican grandchildren “the little brown ones”.

    Those were actually his biological grandchildren, spawn of Jebby and Columba Bush. These children are John Ellis, Jr., George Prescott and Noelle Lucilia. All three have had brushes with the law. In 2000, when he was 16, John was caught having sex with a 17 year old girl in a car parked in a mall parking lot in Florida. In 2005 he was arrested for public intoxication in Texas. He worked for Rudy Guliani’s campaign this year. In 1994 George Prescott Bush showed up at the home of an ex-girlfriend in Miami Florida at 4 a.m. and broke into her family’s home through a window in the woman’s bedroom. Bush fought with the woman’s father and then fled the scene, only to return in his SUV and drive over family’s front lawn, ruining the turf. The family declined to press charges against the young Bush. Noelle Bush has had several brushes with the law due to serious substance abuse issues. She was arrested in Florida for trying to pass a forged prescription for Xanax and later was found in contempt of court when she was caught with cocaine while in a rehab facility. Of course Mama Columba was caught trying to smuggle over $19,000.00 worth of clothes and jewelry into the US after a trip to France in order to avoid paying custom duties on the articles because, you know, only little pwople pay taxes. Then of course there is Jebby himself who lobbied his father successfully to grant a pardon to Cuban American terrorist and CIA operative Orlando Bosch who blew up Cuban Flight 455 killing 73 people and a man who may have been in Dealy Plaza when President Kennedy was assassinated and though I’m not normally a conspiracy theorist I have come to believe, over these past eight years, that George H. W. Bush was behind the assassination of JFK given the depth of evil that has emerged from that family.

    A couple of months ago I was reading a story by a reporter who had noticed numbers in Rural Red States seemed to be moving toward Obama. They went to interview people in those states and found people were admiring and hopeful of Obama but the reporter was really taken aback by how many expressed fear that he was assassinated. I admit, as someone who lives in rural Indiana, I’ve had that fear. I look at Obama and remember how the great leaders of my generation, the Kennedys, Martin Luther King, John Lennon, were gunned down in cold bllod before their promise could be fulfilled and I worry. I overheard a couple of 20 something guys talking in the Public Library where I work. One said, “Obama, he’ll never be President,” and the other one said, “Yeah, and if he is someone will shoot him.” Then there were the Aryan Nation types who were arrested in Colorado, armed to the teeth, right before the Democratic Convention and the rabid animal who called out, “Kill him!” at the Palin rally and I worry and I pray that whatever Gods that there are will protect this extraordinary man and I swear, if anyone harms him then public beheading with their severed heads displayed on the iron spikes of the White House fence would be none to good for the perpetrators.

  14. Ron R. Says:

    I doubt McCain’s was a racist slur or one of comtempt. Rather, it was one of a man or 72 who suddenly could not recall his opponent’s name. Ever have a name you knew very well escape from you? You know you know. You could pick it out of 1000 other names, but you still can’t find it. You might even know the beginning letter of the name (O for example), but still can’t find it. This is the reason this 77 year old would not vote for a candidate over 70.

  15. Elisabeth in Salt Lake City Says:

    When I was in high school, I realized my mother referred to anyone she didn’t like as “what’s ‘is name” or “what’s ‘er name”. When she referred to my boyfriend that way, my immediate reaction was to bristle and say, “His NAME is John.” This “forgetfulness” on her part was a way of belittling the person about whom she was talking. It was wrong then, and it is wrong now for a Presidential candidate to refer to his opponent as “That One.” What I love is that “That One” has become a battle cry for people creating Obama ’08 campaign products on sites such as http://www.cafepress.com. This is the most important election ever in this country for several reasons, most of all that a multi-cultural, brilliant, dignified, thoughtful and caring man is getting closer and closer to being elected. It’s about time and I am proud to be supporting “That One!”

  16. MsLylaLee Says:

    As a retired Registered Nurse with twenty years experience, I am surprised that someone has not mentioned this. Eye contact and direct engagement is as important in human interactions as it is in the animal kingdom. Think of how bears, dogs and any member of a primate family react to the presence of the dominant or alpha male. Direct eye contact can have dire results. Better to hang ones head and skulk about in deference to the leaders position and remain safe. I just think of this whenever I see McCain and Obama together.

  17. kaybee Says:

    Picture President McCain at the podium speaking to the United Nations as our leader pointing to an equal leader of another country and saying “that one”.

  18. David Knapp Says:

    In response to Punky Allen

    McCain was not being racist nor has he been racist through out his campaign. I live in the south and have family who live in the “deep south.” It is unfortunate but when my some of my deep south relatives in a negative way they don’t say that one. No, instead they use another word that makes it clear that they are racist.

  19. Punky Alan Says:

    Thanks for your opinion, D. Knapp. We have a saying where I come from: “If it looks like a duck, waddles like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck.” No matter who says it isn’t.

  20. jeffffffffff Says:

    i, for one, love john mccain’s decision to call obama “that one”. in doing so, he truly lived up to his position as an american hero!

    USA! USA!

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