There’s fear in the air and the scent of loathing is wafting along side it. The fear of unemployment and the loss of health insurance and housing, the specter of economic collapse, these are real issues and the anxiety is palpable. I feel it too and I vicariously experience it on behalf of my family and friends. It’s unavoidable, but it can be managed.

Unfortunately, at times like this fear also pushes some people to openly express their hatreds and prejudices. Crowds at McCain campaign rallies have been yelling ugly epithets and threats, many with racial and xenophobic overtones. People who see themselves as victims are looking for the victimizers. Obama, Hispanics, Muslims: someone must be held accountable for our plight. And are McCain/Palin trying to calm the crowds? Do they repudiate descriptions of Obama as a “terrorist?” Of course not. They seize it, capitalize on it, nurture it, revel in it. They continue to link “terrorist” “Ayers” and “Obama” in the same sentence, hardly pausing for breath. “Here are the dots, connect them yourself.”

Is this leadership? Is this putting “country first?” Of course not. It’s exploiting others’ fears for personal gain, in this case election to the White House. We’ve seen this raw fear-mongering in past elections. It is shameful and embarrassing and serves only to maintain the divisiveness and polarization that McCain claims to abhor. Mr. “Reach Across the Aisle Maverick” is in fact engaging in the worst sort of demagoguery, appealing to the prejudice and passions of the mob, not their reason. Frankly, if I was on the other side of the aisle I’m not sure I’d want to touch that hand.

Ironically, “demagogue” and “democracy” share the same root word, “demo,” or “of the people.” McCain has chosen the low road out of desperation, the path of the demagogue and not of the statesman. The legacy he will leave the Republican party will not be the White House, but bitter defeat and disarray. The “steady hand on the tiller” shouldn’t be the Naval Academy graduate, but that of the man who has shown steadiness during the current storm.