Elections & Voting
A lesson for McCain
By Andrew E. Mathis
Online Journal Guest Writer

Oct 30, 2008, 00:22

For a very long time, treason was one of the only crimes for which the federal government reserved the right to execute the offender. It�s that serious. That�s why it�s so disconcerting, in one of the most vile political campaigns run in recent history, to hear supports of Sen. John McCain call Sen. Barack Obama a traitor at rallies.

It�s true that Senator McCain has, once or twice, corrected various idiots at his rallies who have railed against Sen. Obama with the insult of �traitor.� But he hasn�t gone far enough. In a relatively recent political campaign in another country, an example was set by a political candidate that Sen. McCain should seek to follow, because it�s not as if, should Sen. Obama be elected on November 4, the charges of treason will suddenly stop.

The country was Israel and the choice was between incumbent Prime Minister Ehud Barak and, of all people, then Likud leader Ariel Sharon. Barak had been elected in 1999 on promises not only to conclude a peace agreement with the Palestinians, but also to reform the state itself, introducing a constitution for the country and guaranteeing equal rights to all of Israel�s non-Jewish citizens. Having failed to keep any of these promises, Barak�s government collapsed and elections were called.

Sharon had inherited the helm of the Likud from Binyamin Netanyahu, who left the prime ministry in disgrace in 1999. In her book about her grandfather, assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Noa Pelosoff wrote that she blamed Netanyahu more for her grandfather�s killing than she did Yasir Arafat. Her reason was that it was common at Likud rallies (and at the rallies of the far right wing) to call Rabin a traitor, despite his outstanding military record and the fact that the very land that he was negotiating to trade for peace under the Oslo Accords was land that he himself had conquered in 1967.

So Sharon had a very fine line to walk when he ran against Barak in late 2000 and early 2001. When shouts of �traitor� would arise from the rabble at the Likud rallies that winter, Sharon would stop his speeches and address the charge directly. Sure, Barak is wrong, Sharon would say. But to call him a traitor is ridiculous. Sharon would remind his audiences that Barak was (and still is) the most decorated soldier in Israel�s history and that Sharon himself had promoted Barak to the rank of brigadier general. So, Sharon would say, while Barak�s vision for Israel�s security may be radically different from his own, Barak did have Israel�s best interests at heart and to call him a traitor was both dangerous and idiotic.

We are lucky enough not to have seen an assassination of a head of state in this country since 1963, but the indictment of President Kennedy for treason in the Dallas Morning News on the day of his assassination speaks volumes about what this kind of talk can lead to. Ariel Sharon is hardly a model for how a politician or soldier should conduct himself but the extraordinary case of Rabin made it necessary for Sharon to make it clear to his supporters that the kind of rhetoric he was hearing was inappropriate and wrong. This is one case where Senator McCain should take a page from Sharon�s book.

Andrew E. Mathis is a medical editor, Holocaust historian, and adjunct professor of English and humanities at Villanova University.

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