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Posted by on Oct 24, 2008 in At TMV, Politics, Society | 15 comments

Strange Fruit

It had to come to this.

Yesterday Drudge and Fox News blared a headline that would tear at the conscience of America. A white, female McCain staffer was robbed at an ATM machine in Pittsburgh. And then when the “large, dark-skinned, black” assailant noticed her McCain bumper sticker he became “enraged” and proceeded to fondle her and then carve a letter “B” in her face. It was the perfect racially incendiary crime at the heart of an election with racial tension bubbling just below the surface. And it occurred in western Pennsylvania where Congressman Jack Murtha had already accused his own constituents of racism.

The Executive Director of Fox News declared,

Part of the appeal of, and the unspoken tension behind, Senator Obama’s campaign is his transformational status as the first African-American to win a major party’s presidential nomination.

That does not mean that he has erased the mutual distrust between black and white Americans, and this incident could become a watershed event in the 11 days before the election.

If Ms. Todd’s allegations are proven accurate, some voters may revisit their support for Senator Obama, not because they are racists (with due respect to Rep. John Murtha), but because they suddenly feel they do not know enough about the Democratic nominee.

If the incident turns out to be a hoax, Senator McCain’s quest for the presidency is over, forever linked to race-baiting.

For Pittsburgh, a city that has done so much to shape American history over the centuries, another moment of truth is at hand.

And so it was. A hoax.

An absurd and awful hoax that even Michelle Malkin fingered just after the story hit the right-wing blogosphere. The “B” was written backwards, as if she wrote it herself looking at a mirror.

And then the police noticed her changing stories and inconsistencies.

Today, she admitted that she made the story up.


She’s mentally ill. But she’s also a PAID staffer for McCain – not just some off-the-street volunteer.

And then there’s the question of who fanned the flames of this story. The state campaign communications director told the media about this story before the facts could be confirmed. They saw this as a propaganda victory that could turn Pennsylvania and its “racist” voters toward McCain.

Instead, if John Moody of Fox News is to believed, John McCain’s campaign is over, forever tainted with the record of race-baiting.

But I think there is something much worse here. What Ashley Todd did was to accuse a black man of what through much of American history was a lynching offense. Throughout the 19th and early 20th century, white women publicly falsified charges of sexual assault against black men, knowing that white men would come to the defense of their “honor” and hang the supposed offender by a tree. The strange fruit would be a signal to the black population that white women were off limits, and that white men would control the world. Some of these lynchings invited thousands of participants and witnesses.

It had become so epidemic in the 1890s that even many well-to-do African Americans conceded that the victims somehow deserved their fate. That is, until the brave Memphis activist Ida B. Wells discovered that many of the victims had not committed crimes at all, but had simply had the temerity to succeed. Acting “uppity” was itself a capital offense, a direct challenge to the racial order. But if the mob could attach a charge of rape then the deed could be done.

In this case, there was no assailant of Ashley Todd. But there was most certainly an “uppity” black man that threatened the essence of white supremacy as Ashley Todd and her like-minded thugs imagined. That “uppity negro” might not get the strange fruit treatment on an elm tree but he could certainly be hanged in effigy on Election Day.

We’ve seen enough disgusting racism in this campaign to make this one of the ugliest in a long time. Most of the time the charge comes out that Barack Obama is a secret Muslim. But make no mistake. Calling Obama a Muslim is a politically convenient (if not correct) way to disparage Barack Obama because he’s black.

What Ashley Todd did, however, was to break through that “Muslim” code and reveal the raw racism underneath.

As Obama’s election becomes more and more likely with each passing day as Obama continues to dominate the national and state polls, these acts of utter desperation and rage will only continue. Just watch some of the unhinged reaction today from McCain and Palin crowds in Nevada and Colorado. Not all of the charges here are racial, but they are all paranoid, delusional and unhinged. Calling Obama a “Communist” is every bit as deranged as calling McCain a “Nazi.”

What’s even sadder is that these rallies have come to define the McCain-Palin campaign in the absence of any positive message from them. Their campaign has become pure negativity at this point. I suppose that’s what happens when you’re at the end of a losing campaign and you’ve thrown all dignity out the window. But the damage will be long-lasting for the Republican Party.

The American people have struggled for centuries to be better than those goons in the two videos, or Ashley Todd and her antecedents in the last century. The Republican Party had better figure out how to speak to America’s hopes and aspirations, and not just its darkest fears, or else it will find itself in a permanent minority.

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Copyright 2008 The Moderate Voice
  • jstacey

    No question, McCain supporters are no good.

    Obama supporters, on the other hand are well informed:

    For latest Palin bombshell:

  • jstacey

    Click here for Obama supporters:

  • AustinRoth

    Elrod –

    Where to begin?

    This screed on how Republicans are racist because of a mentally ill woman, in a hoax that even the evil Michelle Malkin immediately denounced? And the fact she was a paid staffer does not imply towards the campaign or the other staff that there is systemic racism. Mentally ill is mentally ill.

    However, it does say something about their screening process, at least at the local level.

  • I hope the campaign official story isn’t true.

    Because if it is, I think I’m going to be sick.

  • When this story first came out, I avoided posting about it. However, I did send a couple of e-mails to Republican friends and informed them that I was calling shenanigans on it. The whole thing was just too convenient and had too many glaring holes in it. However, it just didn’t strike me as a political campaign story. Let us, for a moment, pretend that the story had somehow been real. Does that say something about the Obama campaign? No. It says something about a violent, disturbed criminal in Pittsburgh. And once it was proven false, does that suddenly make it a campaign story? Again, no. It’s the story of one deranged woman who will be facing police charges and is obviously in need of some help and who is desperate for attention. (Cutting yourself is an all too common theme with disturbed young people.)

    Unfortunately, these sorts of things happen all the time in campaigns and the media -both old and new – keep falling into the trap. With so many real issues facing us it is sad that we waste our time on nutjobs like these people.

  • Marsh

    “Today, she admitted that she made the story up.
    She’s mentally ill. But she’s also a PAID staffer for McCain – not just some off-the-street volunteer.”

    Could someone please point me to the article or source that indicates Todd was a “paid staffer”? Everything I’ve read indicates she was a volunteer.

  • elrod

    Let me reiterate here that the my biggest beef is with the media for blowing this up without getting the facts. TPM shows pretty conclusively that McCain’s PA communications director pushed this story before the facts came in.

    Ashley Todd is a pathetic and disturbed woman – though somehow you’d think she was “vetted” beforehand.

    But the backstory to this sort of thing is real. Todd may be a lunatic, but accusations of black-on-white woman crime are loaded with historical grievance.

  • elrod

    You do realize that you could do the same thing with partisan and relatively uninformed Republicans too. A lot of politics is tribal affiliation. I talk to lots of Republicans here in East Tennessee who seem to agree with me on the important issues. But they’ll vote for McCain because he’s a Republican and these people have voted Republican since the 1860s. Blacks in Harlem are no different that way than whites in East Tennessee. Also, blacks in Harlem would have responded the same way if Clinton were the nominee.

    Being a tribal affiliater with a party is no sin. It’s as old as the Jacksonian party system.

    But being a public bigot on camera is another matter.

  • Marsh

    dup delete

  • Crazy woman looking for attention… Eager beavers breaking the story… Stupidity flies around… Hoax… Pie on the face…

    America! What a country! 🙂

  • Elrod, I think you do justice to exactly how deep this goes. Slight tangent but similar reactions: the Hit A Jew Day situation in St. Louis. People tossing it off as kids being kids. No, absolutely not. And for reasons related to prejudice and anti-Semitism analogous to what you describe here related to race.

    I was just looking at electoral maps from NBC and have to say, McCain and Palin decided to campaign by telling voters how much they love “real America.” Based on the electoral maps today, it looks as though “real America” is a much smaller piece of land with a lot smaller population than they counted on.

  • jstuart1031

    Makes you wonder if some teenagers read Mayella Ewell’s case as a warning or a blueprint. That’s the logic of SERE applied to a pretty common cultural lesson.

  • Lynx

    I certainly hope this sad chapter in the presidential race does not hurt the McCain campaign. If it does I’m fairly convinced it would be completely unfair. It’s a very dark insinuation, that people with McCain’s campaign had previous knowledge, privileged knowledge, of the attack.
    That people within the campaign were willing to use this event to incite racial strife is disgusting but nowhere near as sinister as what seems to be being implied.
    I call this as the act of a hateful and disturbed individual and possibly the overzealous exploitation of a local campaign group. I submit that McCain should suffer no ill consequence for the acts of a few insane and stupid people on his staff, just as Obama would not deserve backlash if some demented loon had in fact attacked an McCain supporter on political/racial grounds.

  • JSpencer

    Just a few comments: As soon as I saw the photo of Todd I was 90% sure the B was self-inflicted. This is one of the few times M. Malkin and I shared the same instinct. If that happens again I’ll start getting a little worried. 😉

    As for the two videos (Nevada and Colorado McCain/Palin crowds)… what a celebration of ignorance. The best single word description might be, “demented”. It is my sincere hope they represent only a small portion of the republican party, otherwise the R’s are in bigger trouble than I thought they were.

    As an aside, one of my three yard signs was vandalized last night, or more accurately, “melted” – while the other two were left alone. Fortunately I was prepared for just such an event and have my back-up out there already. The cowardly varmints are lucky I didn’t catch em in the act!

  • StockBoySF

    Lynx: “I call this as the act of a hateful and disturbed individual and possibly the overzealous exploitation of a local campaign group. I submit that McCain should suffer no ill consequence for the acts of a few insane and stupid people on his staff…”

    We should pity the woman with mental problems who perpetrated this and the law will deal with her appropriately. As far as what you term the “overzealous exploitation of a local campaign group”…. I disagree with you. The furtherance of this is by the PA communications director (not very “local” in my book). And PA is a huge swing state that McCain hopes to win. One would expect the communications director in such a state to be mature enough to show good judgement. If this were a one-off incident with the McCain campaign, then I’d be willing to give the guy (and McCain) a second chance. However the McCain campaign has this pattern of linking Obama to terrorists, etc. McCain is running a divisive campaign. This is just one more example of the campaign’s tactics. McCain should be held responsible for setting this tone, because he does allow it to happen.

    By the way, has the McCain campaign apologized for jumping the gun on this? I think it’s too much to ask for them to apologize for pushing “facts” that the police didn’t even mention…. but at least the campaign could apologize for jumping the gun.

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