McCain and the “Arab”

The woman quoted by Mark Halperin telling John McCain that Barack Obama is an “Arab terrorist” &#8212 at which he corrected her &#8212 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 &#8212 he says he’s a Christian &#8212 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.


Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: