The woman quoted by Mark Halperin telling John McCain that Barack Obama is an “Arab terrorist” — at which he corrected her — actually said merely “Arab.” It’s appropriate to give Halperin a hard time for misquoting, especially when apparently he had the right version earlier.
There’s some tendency on our side to give McCain a hard time, too, for speaking as if “Arab” were contradictory to “decent family man” or “citizen.” McCain, for once, doesn’t deserve it. Under the circumstances, he was doing the right thing, in the right way.
There were two false ideas in that woman’s mind: (and the minds of the rest of the audience: there’s no outcry at her statement, as there is at McCain’s statement that Obama is not someone you have to be scared of as President). One false idea was “Arabs [probably, she meant Muslims] are bad people.” The other false idea was “Obama is an Arab.”
McCain was in a position to give credible personal testimony only about Obama’s ethnicity; he knows the man better than his audience does. If he’d tried to explain that “Arabs” aren’t bad people, leaving behind the impression that Obama is an “Arab,” he would have scored more multiculti points, but done less to disabuse the audience of their false ideas. Indeed, if McCain had really been the conscienceless Iago he has sometimes played this campaign, he would have said, “I don’t know about Senator Obama’s religion — he says he’s a Christian — but I know he’s a decent family man, as many Arabs are.”
McCain deserves to take a hit for running a campaign that generated the audience behavior he has belatedly decided to try to repress, and for allowing his staff to defend the earlier mob behavior and to use the Obama campaign’s mild complaint about “terrorist” “traitor” “off with his head” “kill him” as one more excuse to bring up “bittergate,” but McCain gets pretty much full marks for that performance.