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What John McCain Could Learn From Omar Little

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Our online series, "Speak Your Mind," continues: What do Sen. John McCain and Omar Little of HBO's The Wire have in common? Nothing ... and that's not necessarily a good thing, writes R. Corey Richardson, an advertising account planner from Austin, Texas.

Read and respond.

Sen. John McCain and "Omar Little" Composite: Getty Images and HBO hide caption

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Composite: Getty Images and HBO

If you're like me and were an avid fan of HBO's series The Wire, you're no doubt familiar with the character of Omar Little. For those unfamiliar with the show, Omar was creator David Simon's anti-hero in a sprawling pastiche of flawed individuals.

He was a trench coat clad and shotgun-toting homosexual man who made his living robbing Baltimore's drug dealers and, occasionally, dispatching of those who would attempt to do him harm. Hardly the type of character you'd think to invite into your home every Sunday, and even more uncommon a character for people to root for.

But, amidst all of his contradictory character flaws, there was something about Omar Little that made him admirable ... he had a code. He never cursed, never raised his gun to children or anyone not involved in selling drugs, didn't work on Sundays, and even made it a point to take his grandmother to church every week. Beyond the not so nice qualities that made him a thug, there were these few qualities that made him honorable.

I wish John McCain watched The Wire.

Not because it would give him a better sense of what's going on in urban America, or because it would give him a better grasp on law enforcement, school, or other municipal services that are suffering in our inner cities. Not even because it was just a really good show. No, I wish he had watched it to learn the lesson of Omar Little and what life is like for a man with a code.

I saw John McCain's new campaign ad today, where he attacks Barack Obama on his stance on teaching sex education to kindergarteners. The image is, to put it quite bluntly, jarring and to expound, perverse and disturbing. The screen juxtaposes the smiling image of a black man beside the emblazoned terms KINDERGARTEN and SEX as if to send the subliminal subtext that the happy Negro on the screen is some type of hypersexual creature waiting to come after your children or children you may know.

It is, in some senses, the most base level and disgusting political ad I've seen since Lee Atwater introduced the world to Willie Horton in 1988 (and yeah, I was only 10 back then and I knew it was f*cked up.).

This is the politics of 51/49 that we have been subjugated to and manipulated by for the past 15 years. A politics of identity and division where citizens are pitted against citizens to curry the government to address their individual needs; where we can't use the hyphen in our Americaness (African-American, Italian-American, Arab-American) to connect us, but rather, to divide us. It's the same tool the master used against the slave to keep them servile, and it is the cudgel that is used now to keep us fighting over the crumbs instead of asking where the cake is at.

But I digress.

When this campaign began, John McCain promised that he would run an honorable campaign based on the issues that the American people could be proud of, a civilized debate of the matters facing our nation, and a departure from the Karl Rove tactics of the past that even he had been a victim of in 2000. I believed him because I believed in the John McCain of 2000 ... But I was wrong.

John McCain, you have no honor.

Let me break it down 'til it can no longer be broke...

The Mafia has a code.

Gangbangers have a code.

Dope dealers have a code.

Even prisoners have a code.

Out in the streets and in the annals of the underworld that most people never see, there are rules and laws that dictate one's behavior, and they are predicated on the most primary tenet of one's character: The ability to keep one's word. You say what you mean, mean what you say, and that which is said is your credit on your name. That's all you got. That's the currency you trade on.

Back to Omar.

Omar lived by his code and stuck to his word, which made him a respectable, although not always likeable, individual. The police knew where he stood, the streets knew where he stood, and so when a question arose about what he did or did not do, he always had his word and his code to fall back on — until he was blinded by anger and avarice and went from being a man of righteous purpose to a man of selfish vengeance. He crossed his own line and shortly thereafter, he was dispatched — ironically enough, by one of those he would have not turned his gun on based on his own honor.

So when John McCain chooses to disregard his own word, betray his own code, and negate his own honor, he only sets himself up to become a victim of his own tactics.

I'm not espousing violence or fomenting disproportionate retribution here, people (for the feds that might be reading my thoughts). I'm just drawing a parallel based on our generation's closest thing to a Greek tragedy.

The moral of the story is: When you betray the thing you love by betraying your promise to it, that thing will destroy you.

The same can be said for Jimmy McNulty as it can be said for Bill Clinton. It can be said for Stringer Bell as it can be said for Karl Rove. You can't be yourself by not being yourself and not suffer the consequences of your actions.

I hope someone in the McCain campaign has some time to check out The Wire and can let ol' Johnny know how these stories end.

Probably not.

And probably, like The Wire, this story won't end the way I want it to and instead we won't see real change, but just the perpetuation of the same by new faces of the same faction.

I hope I'm wrong, but I'm usually not.

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— R. Corey Richardson

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