Pulling Out All the Stops

In organ music terminology, a “stop” is both a set of pipes, all tuned to the same note, that play simultaneously when the organist presses any key on the keyboard, and the knob or handle that activates each set of pipes. When an organist pulls out a stop, she activates the pipes associated with that stop.

Knowing that, you can probably figure out what “pulling out all the stops” means in the language of organ music, and how it came to be an idiomatic expression for doing everything possible to achieve a goal. It’s a particularly fitting metaphor for the McCain campaign’s desperate attempt in the last few weeks to “stop” Barack Obama’s enormous lead in the polls by resorting to tactics that are clearly intended to pull out all the stops — of civility, of respect, of common decency — that make people stop and think before they react or speak in public settings.

There is always ugliness that lies below the surface in human interactions, private and public. The history of the United States is a living paradox: a sublime and unique experiment in human enlightenment, replete with cruelty and injustice. It’s who we are as a nation, as a people, both the terrible and the wonderful. The reminders of what is least attractive in the American character will always be there. Which is why it is so deplorable when public figures who occupy positions of power and influence choose to use those advantages to appeal to the worst in us.

And that’s what’s going on at McCain and Palin rallies in Florida, in Wisconsin, in Ohio, in Pennsylvania, and everywhere else these two go in public.

Examples:

  • Nico Pitney and Sam Stein, The Huffington Post: “Obama Called ‘Traitor’ Again at McCain Rally“:

    John McCain’s rally on Friday once again inspired furious reactions from his supporters, with one woman screaming “traitor!” as McCain criticized Barack Obama’s tax record.

    “He promised higher taxes on electricity,” McCain charged at the event in La Crosse, Wisconsin. “He voted for the Democratic budget resolution that promised to raise taxes on people making just $42,000 a year.” At that point, the woman yelled “traitor,” and both McCain and his wife Cindy appeared to look in her direction.

    The Arizona Senator continued with his stump speech without referencing her.

  • Greg Sargent, TPM Election Central, “Anti-Obama Fury Spills Over Into Down-Ticket Contests“:

    The fury and loathing of Obama being whipped up largely by McCain-Palin-GOP rhetoric about the Illinois Senator is now spilling into down-ticket races, specifically the battle between GOP incumbent Saxby Chambliss and his Dem challenger:

    Thursday’s debate took place in front of a highly partisan crowd in the GOP stronghold of Middle Georgia.

    Chambliss supporters waved “Saxby” signs and offered up a sustained “boos” when Martin mentioned Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama.

    “Bomb Obama,” one woman hollered.

  • Frank Schaeffer, “McCain’s Attacks Fuel Dangerous Hatred“:

    John McCain: If your campaign does not stop equating Sen. Barack Obama with terrorism, questioning his patriotism and portraying Mr. Obama as “not one of us,” I accuse you of deliberately feeding the most unhinged elements of our society the red meat of hate, and therefore of potentially instigating violence.

    At a Sarah Palin rally, someone called out, “Kill him!” At one of your rallies, someone called out, “Terrorist!” Neither was answered or denounced by you or your running mate, as the crowd laughed and cheered. At your campaign event Wednesday in Bethlehem, Pa., the crowd was seething with hatred for the Democratic nominee – an attitude encouraged in speeches there by you, your running mate, your wife and the local Republican chairman.
    [...]
    John McCain, you are no fool, and you understand the depths of hatred that surround the issue of race in this country. You also know that, post-9/11, to call someone a friend of a terrorist is a very serious matter. You also know we are a bitterly divided country on many other issues. You know that, sadly, in America, violence is always just a moment away. You know that there are plenty of crazy people out there.

    Stop! Think! Your rallies are beginning to look, sound, feel and smell like lynch mobs.

  • Steve Benen, The Washington Monthly, “Hate, Fear, and Ignorance“:

    On CNN last night, David Gergen, a Republican advisor to Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Clinton, commented on the “anger” evident at McCain/Palin rallies of late. “There is this free floating sort of whipping around anger that could really lead to some violence,” Gergen said. “I think we’re not far from that.”

    When Anderson Cooper expressed skepticism about whether violence was likely, Gergen said he “really worries” given “the kind of rhetoric” coming from the Republican ticket.

    When a mainstream, Republican presidential advisor goes on national television and expresses concern that Republican voters might literally become violent in response to the Republican presidential ticket’s rhetoric, it’s safe to say we’ve reached a rather dramatic point.

    This week has been unusually incendiary. The McCain campaign has deliberately been whipping the angry, far-right Republican base into a frenzy. That includes increasing frequency of “Hussein” references, but it also includes looking the other way while campaign supporters exclaim “treason!,” “terrorist!,” and “kill him!” during official rallies.

  • Josh Marshall, Talking Points Memo, “Starts to Seem Commonplace“:

    From NBC’s FirstRead

    As seen at recent McCain events, this afternoon’s crowd was vocal in their support for McCain and their anger with Senator Obama. At one point one man could be heard yelling, “Off with his head,” when McCain spoke about Obama’s tax plan. That enthusiasm was even more present during Palin’s remarks, and as other observers have reported in the past, today there was a sizeable number of people making their way towards the exit after McCain’s running mate left the podium.

    Like I said, I think it’s going to take a few burning in effigies to catch people’s attention at this point.

  • Greg Sargent, TPM Election Central, “McCain Supporter Rants About ‘Hooligan’ Obama and ‘Socialist’ Takeover — and McCain Agrees“:

    After the man’s rant, the crowd got worked up and chanted “U-S-A” a bunch of times. Then McCain replied: “Well, I — I think I got the message. Could I just say, the gentleman is right.” McCain then went on about how it was true that Americans are angry.
    [...]
    … This supporter, bless his soul, is in a frenzy about the prospect of being taking over by “socialists” and “hooligans,” and his rant clearly got the crowd going. Rather than responsibly talk him and the rest of the crowd down, or say even some de rigeur things about how socialists aren’t really going to take over, about how Obama and the Dems aren’t really hooligans, about how we should keep the dialog respectful and sane, McCain says the man is “right.”

    The point is, McCain is letting this whack-job fear and hysteria ride across the board, and is even encouraging it. That’s news, and you’d think it would get some serious and aggressive treatment from the big news orgs.

  • Jonathan Martin, Politico, “Panic Attacks: Voters Unload at GOP Rallies“:

    John Weaver, McCain’s former top strategist, said top Republicans have a responsibility to temper this behavior.

    “People need to understand, for moral reasons and the protection of our civil society, the differences with Sen. Obama are ideological, based on clear differences on policy and a lack of experience compared to Sen. McCain,” Weaver said. “And from a purely practical political vantage point, please find me a swing voter, an undecided independent, or a torn female voter that finds an angry mob mentality attractive.”

  • Pat Shellenbarger, The Grand Rapids Press, “Former Governor Milliken Backs Away From McCain“:

    He endorsed John McCain in the presidential primary, but now former Republican Gov. William Milliken is expressing doubts about his party’s nominee.

    “He is not the McCain I endorsed,” said Milliken, reached at his Traverse City home Thursday. “He keeps saying, ‘Who is Barack Obama?’ I would ask the question, ‘Who is John McCain?’ because his campaign has become rather disappointing to me.

    “I’m disappointed in the tenor and the personal attacks on the part of the McCain campaign, when he ought to be talking about the issues.”

    Milliken, a lifelong Republican, is among some past leaders from the party’s moderate wing voicing reservations and, in some cases, opposition to McCain’s candidacy.

One Response to “Pulling Out All the Stops”

  1. bluespapa says:

    Doh, darn! I thought it was accordion music terminology!

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