Video: Olbermann to McCain: Speak up and lead!

By Keith Olbermann Anchor, 'Countdown'
updated 10/27/2008 9:08:03 PM ET 2008-10-28T01:08:03

Finally tonight, a Campaign Comment about the fraudulent race attack claim, since acknowledged and recanted, by a John McCain campaign volunteer in Pennsylvania. You know the story quite well by now.

It is a sad, demoralizing tale of a woman who can easily be summarized by the term "B-Actress." Ashley Todd was not sexually assaulted by a big black man.

He did not carve the letter "B" onto her face to punish her for supporting John McCain. It apparently never dawned on her, or resembled less a cut, than an abrasion done by a weapon no more sinister than a nail file. She was not even at the ATM where she claimed the attack took place. It apparently never dawned on her that the machine had security video and she wouldn't be on it.

And clearly somewhere in her mind was a calculation that a story like this one, with layer upon layer of racial threat, could be some kind of game changer for the presidential candidate she worked to get elected in at least two states for at least two months.

Her saga is pathetic. She now claims mental illness. If this too is not true, Ms. Todd might think she's pulling another fast one over on the rest of us. In fact her claim seems to be accurate whether she knows it or not.

And much more disturbingly, so was her calculation. At least until her story, in retrospect a ludicrous confection, fell apart and she had to confess her crime, she had inspired dozens, perhaps hundreds, of journalists and bloggers and all those in between on both political sides, to stand over this nation's ever-present tinderbox of racial prejudice, and racial fear, and racial hatred.

And she had brought them all matches. We already know what the executive Vice President of Fox News had written while his organization was collectively perched next to that tinderbox, waiting for the slightest excuse to light it, and our nation, ablaze – the over-the-top caveat, thrown in for a window-dressing "balance" with not the slightest intent that it should be taken seriously:

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

That is the well-known part of what John Moody wrote. What preceded it was far less publicized, and far more important.

"Part of the appeal of, and the unspoken tension behind, Sen. 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 Sen. 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."

Moody wrote that.

It wouldn't be racism to suddenly blame Barack Obama for an attack on a white woman by a black man intending to punish her not supporting another black man. It would be a "watershed moment" because it somehow meant "they suddenly feel as if they do not know enough about the Democratic nominee."

Its only connection would be racial, but the response would not be racism. The tinderbox, again. And a very large match, provided by John Moody. I know this man. He is not stupid, not careless. He has, in fact, an educational background identical to my own, right down to the same college radio station. He knew what he was writing: a rationalization for racism.

That Moody should be fired, goes without saying. That if not fired, he should resign in shame, is also obvious.

Neither will happen, because there is no one of sufficient authority to reproach him  and the others  who but for Ashley Todd's inability to maintain her inner hoaxster for more than two days, would have solemnly and grimly, and some secretly, happily, set the presidential campaign on its ear, and knocked this nation's tenuous grip on the relationship between the races, off its axis.

Because there was nobody to say "no, don't." This is where you come in, Sen. McCain. No histrionics from me to you this time, Senator. No yelling. Just a plea. Say something about this. Now. Say something strongly and succinctly about the unacceptability of what happened and how some of your supporters tried to exploit it.

I am not asking you to assume the responsibility for this, no matter how your campaign pushed this story. I have no doubt that in the mirror-image scenario, many of Senator Obama's supporters would do the same.

But I also have no doubt that by this point in that mirror-image scenario, Sen. Obama would have said  something to try to stop the next Ashley Todd  and the next John Moody.

Senator, of all the things I don't like about you or your campaign I have never thought you a racist. As imperfect as was your moment with the Minnesota woman, mumbling about Arabs, I thought it was the finest moment of your campaign.

I believe that you feel as I do – that racial hatred and prejudice have no place in this campaign, or in this country. I believe that you feel as I do – as Clarence Darrow said in a different time and different context: "I am pleading for the future; I am pleading for a time when hatred and cruelty will not control the hearts of men. When we can learn by reason and judgment and understanding and faith…"

Sometimes, Sen. McCain, it is as if we are almost there. And then some unthinking act, like the one by Ashley Todd, throws us back against the rocks and we barely escape with our ship intact. In that time of foundering, Sen. McCain, far too few of us have a chance, to personally right the ship, to heal, instead of stand idly by, to make a difference in this oldest and most wearying of our struggles as a nation.

This chance, Sir, is yours. Say something. Or better yet, say something with Sen. Obama, about race and how we live with one another. Let this last week of the campaign be remembered, no matter how it turns out next Tuesday, as something other than the time Ashley Todd lied, and the John Moodys threatened, and you said nothing.

Sen. McCain , once again—grab the microphone.


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