It's good, as far as it goes, that John McCain is attempting to contain some of the paranoid ugliness that he's been responsible for. I'm happy to live in a country where politicians' self-interest restrains them from fomenting civil unrest.
But what matters is not the kind of man John McCain is or isn't. What matters is the kind of country we live in.
McCain will be a rapidly-receding footnote to history by Thanksgiving, taking his place among the Bob Doles and James Blaines and Charles Pickerings. He still has the power to make this campaign very dangerous for a lot of innocent Americans, but on November 5th he won't be able to get the matches near the gunpowder any more.
What worries me are the people who are stocking up their own gunpowder for Guy Fawkes Day. It's bad enough that hateful, paranoid lies are being spread in an attempt to defeat Obama. What's much, much worse is that defeating Obama is no longer the hatemongers' goal
The shape of the narrative is already forming, in preparation for a McCain loss. The right-wing media is laying the groundwork to claim voter fraud, perpetrated by ACORN, as the primary cause of McCain's defeat, even if November 4 is a landslide. In fact, a landslide will make the hard-liners' cognitive dissonance greater, because they won't be able to process how badly they have lost mainstream America, and lead them toward paranoid explanations.
The plan is to deny the legitimacy of Obama's election, and to continue portraying him as a dangerous outsider. No claim is too outlandish. We will hear how Obama personally engineered the financial crisis and how he is in league with various foreign bogeymen.
This is extremely dangerous. It gives the most dangerous people on the right an excuse for violence, because Obama is not "really" President and because he's "dangerous." So violence can be rationalized as necessary, for the greater good. And it builds in an excuse for ignoring the rule of law, since government itself is "illegitimate."
That isn't about one election. That's about the kind of country we live it, about whether we keep civil peace and respect the rule of law.
Starting November 5, we need to push back, hard, on media outlets that peddle dangerous fantasies.