Editors Note: With just hours to go before voters went to the polls on November 4, McCain campaign robo-calls targeting heavily Cuban areas in South Florida delivered the fictional message (some might even call it a lie”) that Fidel Castro had endorsed Barack Obama. Like the other sleazy strategems employed by the Republicans in 2008, this tactic didn’t work.

This Time, We Finally Just Said ‘No’

   Fare thee well now,
   Let your life proceed by its own design.
   Nothing to tell now,
   Let the words be yours, I am done with mine.

   — “Cassidy”
                       John Perry Barlow

An election that seemed nearly as endless as a George W. Bush war is now mercifully over. Voters just said “no” to a “fear and smear” campaign that threatened four more years of rule by the party whose incompetence and malfeasance brought us to a point where 85% of Americans believed we were on the wrong track.

It’s now easier to understand Michelle Obama’s newfound pride in America. And a majority of the electorate can finally share that pride.

During the Bush years, it’s been difficult to distinguish patriotism from jingoism and to be proud of our policies, either domestic or foreign. For example, Americans usually get defensive when foreigners, here or abroad, criticize U.S. actions and leadership. But when the BBC reported that an America missile had destroyed a building in Dusamareb, Somalia — which may, or may not, have housed an al-Qaida leader — along with several neighboring homes, it was hard not to feel ashamed.

Do we have the right to kill a dozen civilians, including women and children, because terrorists might be hiding nearby? In the Bush era, this sort of collateral damage has become so routine that the public has become numb to it, and the mainstream media largely ignores such tragedies.

Initially, this election looked like it might not be politics as usual. Barack Obama is a more courtly candidate than most, lacking the Clintons’ take-no-prisoners toughness. And John McCain indicated he’d eschew the sort of ruthless sleaze that Bush and the Machiavellian Karl Rove had used to derail his 2000 primary run.

But, as his prospects cratered and his desperation grew, McCain ratcheted up tactics that would have done Rove proud. In addition to losing the White House, he soiled his reputation for straight talk, independence, integrity and bipartisanship.

Even as it became increasingly obvious that the electorate was focused on the economy, the McCain campaign reflexively slimed Obama’s character. GOP strategists conceded that, if their themes were economic, they’d lose. So they aired push-poll-type ads asking whether Americans were concerned that Obama was a “celebrity” (as if he were Paris Hilton) and an “elitist” (as if Obama owned seven mansions and had married into a beer heiress’s fortune). To the Republicans’ dismay, the voters answered “no.”

Next, they asked whether Americans were afraid of a candidate who’d served on a board (along with numerous prominent Republicans) that also included a one-time Weather Underground member who’d planned bombings (when Obama was eight years old). Sarah Palin — aka Dan Quayle with lipstick — asked if we were frightened by a candidate who “palled around with terrorists.” Again, the voters just said, “no.”

One McCain surrogate, the ever-amusing Minnesota congresswoman Michelle Bachmann, demanded a “penetrating exposé” of lawmakers who, like the Obamas, hold “anti-American views.” Sounding like a parody of the buffoonish Senator Johnny Iselin in “The Manchurian Candidate” (who was himself a parody of Joe McCarthy), she channeled Ann Coulter, alleging “the American people are concerned about” congressional liberals who “hate America and God.” To this, voters merely yawned.

By this point, the electorate was probably jaded by Republican name-calling. When Obama advocated rolling back the same Bush tax cuts that McCain had called “irresponsible” in 2000, he labeled Obama “a socialist.” In North Carolina, a McCain spokesman hinted he might be “a communist,” and Tom Delay called Obama “a Marxist,” as did the hyperbolic and hysterical far-right propagandist Sean Hannity.

In an MSNBC interview, one GOP strategist warned that, with Obama, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi in charge, the U.S. could become “a dictatorship.” McCain rally attendees called Obama “an Arab” and “a Muslim,” and Republican bigots warmed up McCain crowds by emphasizing his scary middle name, Hussein, while some supporters yelled “kill him.” Fortunately, most Americans said “no” to this sort of overkill as well.

To his credit, McCain kept race, including Rev. Jeremiah Wright, out of the campaign until the last few days. But the vicious right-wing media couldn’t restrain themselves. GOP-TV (Fox News) repeatedly referred to our next first lady as “Barack’s baby mama,” urban slang for unwed mother, the racism of which is unmistakable.

Incensed by Colin Powell’s endorsement of Obama, America’s favorite bigot, Rush Limbaugh, screamed, “It’s totally about race.” Evidently cupping your hands and shouting into your microphone demonstrates the ability to read someone else’s mind and heart: Powell couldn’t possibly have preferred Obama based on ability; it just had to be because he’s black. If that isn’t racism …

Emmy-winning writer and senatorial candidate Al Franken once penned a book entitled, “Rush Limbaugh Is a Big, Fat Idiot.” Fortunately, most of us aren’t members of Rush’s dittohead/bobblehead army. This time around, most of us had the sense to just say “no.”

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