The family’s storied military history stretches back to Carroll County, Miss., where McCain’s great-great grandfather William Alexander McCain owned a plantation, and later died during the Civil War as a soldier for the Mississippi cavalry.But what McCain didn’t know about his family until Tuesday was that William Alexander McCain had owned 52 slaves. The senator seemed surprised after Salon reporters showed him documents gathered from Carroll County Courthouse, the Carrollton Merrill Museum, the Mississippi State Archives and the Greenwood, Miss., Public Library.
“I didn’t know that,” McCain said in measured tones wearing a stoic expression during a midday interview, as he looked at the documents before Tuesday night’s debate. “I knew they had sharecroppers. I did not know that.”
Yes, he wrote a book about his antebellum Mississippi-plantation-owning ancestors and somehow didn’t know that they owned slaves. Mm-hmm.
While Barack Obama’s trying to start an honest dialogue about race, John McCain’s doing his best to sweep even the most basic facts about America’s history of racism under the rug. I don’t think that anyone with a junior high school education in America can really get away with saying that they don’t know that there was slavery on plantations in the South in the 1840’s, but here we go.
This is just insulting to our intelligence. This man is running on an image, the same one Republicans have exploited for years, that they’ve descended from the idyllic past to rescue a gender-confused, fearful, and angry America and “restore” it to the perfection it once was. McCain’s Faith of my Fathers wasn’t his means of expressing his love of his family – it was a carefully calculated play at this narrative, written to further his political career.
Pesky reporters doing some in-depth reporting in 2000, like going to the county courthouse and reading records, doesn’t just undermine McCain’s own constructed past (it does), but it also undermines the narrative in general.
“I knew we fought in the Civil War,” McCain went on. “But no, I had no idea. I guess thinking about it, I guess when you really think about it logically, it shouldn’t be a surprise. They had a plantation and they fought in the Civil War so I guess that it makes sense.”
“It’s very impactful,” he said of learning the news. “When you think about it, they owned a plantation, why didn’t I think about that before? Obviously, I’m going to have to do a little more research.”
John isn’t that stupid, he was just caught in a lie, a whopper of a lie, and so he decided to lie some more.
The lie builds on and plays well with white anxiety around race and the realization that, in order to solve these problems, a bit of self-reflection will be required from everyone and some people are going to have to change their ways. The Limbaugh crowd will have to be dragged kicking and screaming in that direction, but, fortunately, there’s a presidential candidate willing to pander to their naïveté as much as it takes.
And Republicans wonder why African Americans tend to vote Democratic.