Rage in the Town of Bethlehem

The Washington Post's Dana Milbank and the washingtonpost.com's Akira Hakuta sketch a McCain/Palin campaign event in Bethlehem, Pa.Video by Akira Hakuta/washingtonpost.com
By Dana Milbank
Thursday, October 9, 2008

BETHLEHEM, Pa. Now, it's personal.

John McCain and Sarah Palin were backstage, and Lehigh County GOP Chairman Bill Platt was warming up the crowd of 6,000 at a rally here for the Republican ticket.

"Think about how you'll feel on November 5 if you wake up in the morning and see the news, that Barack Obama -- that Barack Hussein Obama -- is the president-elect of the United States," Platt said. The audience at the Lehigh University arena booed at the thought of it.

"The number one most liberal senator in the United States of America was, you guessed it, the ambassador of change, Barack Hussein Obama," he added. "This election is about preserving America's past and protecting the promise of its future."

The sage Platt had more information to disclose. "Barack Obama refused to wear an American flag on his lapel," he said of the man who, at the presidential debate the night before, was wearing a flag pin on his lapel. The audience booed. "Barack Obama, a man who wants to be president of the United States of America, removed the American flag from his chest because it was a symbol of patriotism. Perhaps Barack Obama doesn't put country first, but he puts fashion first."

The verbal barrage in the hall must have convinced McCain he was running with a rough crowd.

"Across this country, this is the agenda I have set before my fellow prisoners," he said when he took the stage.

And Platt wasn't the only inmate in the arena. Northampton County council member Peg Ferraro, in her turn at the microphone, spoke about Obama's "backgrounds and affiliations," calling these unspecified relationships "questionable" and asking: "Do we know who his friends are?"

The crowd engaged in a chant of "No-bama!"

State Rep. Karen Beyer darkly warned the crowd that "Barack Obama doesn't know anything about you."

Cindy McCain implied that Obama was trying to harm her son. "My son . . . has served on the front lines," she told the crowd, with her husband and Palin standing behind her. "Let me tell you, the day Senator Obama decided to cast a vote not to fund my son when he was serving . . . sent a cold chill through my body, let me tell you. I suggest that Senator Obama change shoes with me for just one day and see what it means to have a loved one serving in the armed forces, and, more importantly, serving in harm's way."

Only the polka band, which entertained the crowd before the speeches, seemed unaffected by the pervasive anger in the arena. "Ha, ha, ha, come join my happy song," sang the man with the accordion. "Clap along!" The crowd clapped. "We're going to party tonight," he crooned, "with joy and laughter, that's what we're after."

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