CLEARWATER, Fla. -- "Okay, so Florida, you know that you're going to have to hang onto your hats," Sarah Palin told a rally of a few thousand here this morning, "because from now until Election Day it may get kind of rough."
You betcha. And the person dishing out the roughest stuff at the moment is Sarah Palin.
"I was reading my copy of the New York Times the other day," she said.
"Booooo!" replied the crowd.
"I knew you guys would react that way, okay," she continued. "So I was reading the New York Times and I was really interested to read about Barack's friends from Chicago."
It was time to revive the allegation, made over the weekend, that Obama "pals around" with terrorists, in this case Bill Ayers, late of the Weather Underground. Many independent observers say Palin's allegations are a stretch; Obama served on a Chicago charitable board with Ayers, now an education professor, and has condemned his past activities.
"Now it turns out, one of his earliest supporters is a man named Bill Ayers," Palin said.
"Boooo!" said the crowd.
"And, according to the New York Times, he was a domestic terrorist and part of a group that, quote, 'launched a campaign of bombings that would target the Pentagon and our U.S. Capitol,'" she continued.
"Boooo!" the crowd repeated.
"Kill him!" proposed one man in the audience.
Palin went on to say that "Obama held one of the first meetings of his political career in Bill Ayers's living room, and they've worked together on various projects in Chicago." Here, Palin began to connect the dots. "These are the same guys who think that patriotism is paying higher taxes -- remember that's what Joe Biden had said. "And" -- she paused and sighed -- "I am just so fearful that this is not a man who sees America the way you and I see America, as the greatest force for good in the world. I'm afraid this is someone who sees America as 'imperfect enough' to work with a former domestic terrorist who had targeted his own country."
"Boooo!" said the audience.
A nationalistic movement marked by distinct feelings of persecution and an extreme, "us against them" mentality? Check. Always on the lookout for a scapegoat? Check (they've so far blamed blacks and Hispanics for the economic crisis, for example, but there's always someone, from the generic "elites" to the "feminazis" to the NYT, which Palin dredges up here). Mindless leader worship? Check (They've even found their leader, Palin, for now, although they'll find another if she won't do). We are also heading into an economic slump; such periods are ripe for demagoguery, and these people were easily demagogued even when the economy was the strongest in history.
Will things work out that way? I don't know. I'll even venture out on a limb and say the odds are against it. But I also don't know how anyone could look at this and not be concerned. It isn't about the election, isn't about McCain or even Palin, who are just cynical opportunists trying to ride a wave. It's about the attitude of a small but growing chunk of the American population.