To be honest, I think the McCain campaign is using much of the same kind of inflammatory rhetoric that has worked for the Republican Party in the last two elections. They're just (and this is so often my complaint about the Right), not smart enough to understand what they're doing.
Their language, setting aside for the moment the context of this specific campaign and the response of their audience, is just political gasbagging. With a campaign that has tried and failed to find a "hook" McCain can run on and lacking, as they do, any actual reason people should vote for yet another Republican Administration, they're falling back on vague generalities and empty threats.
"We might not have a Plan to save the country, but Those Other Guys do and it's a bad one!" "It's a mess now but they're going to make it so much worse!" Or, the old standby, "Liberals! Dangerous!"
This would be fine, if eye-rollingly oh, so boringly political in any other Presidential campaign, but this is not just any Presidential campaign. McCain's opponent is a Black man. I'm honestly not sure if McCain understood that that changed the nature of the game. As a result, his campaign is being--not racist, but culturally, racially insensitive.
In the USofA, there are cultural stereotypes that many of us deplore, but we have to be adult enough to admit that they exist. I think one of the biggest mistakes McCain has made is not understanding that. I honestly do not think he set out to whip up racist hysteria.*
When you call your opponent "dangerous" and he's an upper-class white man, that's one thing. When it's a Black man, the word 'dangerous' suddenly picks up a lot of baggage.
McCain could have made exactly the same remarks about any white, male opponent (the Right has been calling the Left "dangerous" for years) and they would have passed unnoticed. Where he failed, was in being color-blind. He did not factor Obama's race into the equation.
Unfortunately, a loud-mouthed part of the Republican base is racist. They took Obama's race and McCain's political rhetoric and created an ugly marriage of anger and hate. And then another truckload of the Republican base jumped on the bandwagon. Because they're not only die-hard Republicans, they're ordinary people who see the economy faltering around them, and their way of life in serious danger. They don't understand what caused the mess and they don't want to. What they want, is someone to blame--someone to be angry at.
These people might have gone through their entire lives with their thin veneer of racial tolerance unscratched, but they feel threatened. And, as I said in an earlier post, finger-pointing is much easier and more emotionally satisfying than fixing the problem.
Understand that these are not people who want to be part of the process of governing. They want to cast a vote every four years and then leave the rest entirely up to someone else. They want to get fired up, elect "our guy" and go back to their lives where everything keeps going pretty much the same--except that he landscape is changing and now they don't know what tomorrow is going to bring. They're scared.
Things are different. There's this guy, and he looks different and he says different things and that's not what they're used to in a political campaign. Everything is changing and they don't like it. (This is why they're "conservatives" after all.) And, hey, he's Black and "everyone knows" that Black People are different--and dangerous--and "our guy" says he's a socialist and I'm not sure what that is, but I'm pretty sure it's dangerous too, and now I'm getting really scared.
And thus, what looks like a tidal wave of racism suddenly overtakes McCain's campaign.
McCain has made a few remarks over the last few days. Not many, not loudly, and not often, but enough to convince me that he's becoming aware of the situation and that he regrets it. I don't think he has the political courage to really stand up and say, "stop" though. And, even if he did, the Republican leadership would have a meltdown over him alienating this significant part of their "base."
P.S. Maybe it would be worth it for someone to compare how much naked racism is on display at McCain speaking events, and how much at Palin's events? (Entry also talks about McCain trying to calm his supporters.)
* Let me be clear. I can't say the same for some of his advisors and certainly not his VP pick, but I don't think Senator McCain personally intended any racism. From what I've read, he always mentally "demonizes" his opponents in a campaign. It's how he fires himself up to run. He may not be a poster child for diversity, but I've never seen or read anything to suggest that he's a closet KKK member, either.