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If words could kill

Diverse City
By SHAY STEWART-BOULEY  |  October 16, 2008

Those of us who make our living by writing know that words are among the most powerful tools in human society. The right words at the right time to the right people have the power to instill joy, sadness, or anger. Well-meaning, thoughtful, and uplifting words have the power to sustain us in rough times, while misplaced and angry words can tear at our very souls.

But it isn’t just the written words — the spoken ones can have great impact as well, whether good or bad.

That is why the ugly detour that the McCain-Palin camp is taking is so scary and why it could threaten the fabric of our nation. In recent days, Sarah Palin’s choice of words at recent campaign rallies has brought out a side of my fellow Americans that had me questioning whether this is really 2008 or maybe 1968 or 1958 instead.

Sarah Palin has claimed that Barack Obama “pals around” with terrorists and that he sees America as imperfect enough to work with a domestic terrorist. She’s talking about Bill Ayers. Truth is, Obama sat on a board with this well-known professor, who 40 years ago was part of a group that engaged in some acts of domestic terrorism but was never convicted of a crime. There were Republicans who sat on that board, too, and I wonder why Palin gives them a pass. Maybe because they aren’t Democrats and they don’t have a funny-sounding name that makes some people assume they’re Muslim and perhaps sympathetic to terrorists.

By the way, when Ayers was involved with the Weather Underground, Obama was an eight-year-old kid — and as an adult, he isn’t knocking back beers with Ayers or going to Cubs games with him.

But see, when you use words right, a smidge of truth mixed in with a ton of deceit can stir the flames into something nasty. That’s what happened at several of the McCain-Palin rallies, when folks chanted “kill him,” and called Obama a “terrorist” and a “traitor.” Some of the people in these crowds may have already felt hatred toward Obama. But McCain and Palin did nothing to deter the venomous sentiment festering in their presence.

Adolf Hitler got the Third Reich started not by invading Poland or killing Jews. No, he riled up German citizens with hate-filled speeches first. Just a cautionary note for you.

It was only after days of talking heads, pundits, and everyday folks yelling about how scary the people at the rallies were that McCain suddenly told his supporters to “be respectful” of Obama — still without taking responsibility for helping to fan the flames to begin with.

It’s ironic that Obama’s campaign began by using carefully selected words to stoke the flames of positive change. Who thought then he’d get this far? But his words broke down racial barriers, allowing wins over an establishment candidate in some of the most homogenous states in the country. His words inspired apathetic voters and reminded us that we have shared problems and shared goals.

Now I fear that this new brand of words being used by the McCain-Palin camp and their supporters may lead to violence instead of healing.

It’s up to us to decide whose words we want guiding us for the next four years. Right now, I see hope and motivation on one side, and anger and pettiness on the other. When you vote, ask yourself: are you really voting the issues and with a person you think will help this country, or are you letting words fill your head with fears, doubts, and confusion?

Shay Stewart-Bouley can be reached at

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  Topics: News Features , Barack Obama , John McCain , Sarah Palin ,  More more >
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