While there are definitely assailants or combatants who deserve the term, it seems that in these late days of the 2008 presidential campaign the term "terrorist" is being used as a code word loaded with the silent (unspeakable?) narratives of the American political moment: whiteness, national history, and American citizenship.
Simply put, there are white folks who only understand American citizenship in relation to whiteness itself. They don't think that black Americans, Latinos from the Caribbean or the southern Americas, Mexican Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, or immigrants can actually be citizens.
Even more, the "threat" of a non-white president’s being elected has forced many into existential crisis about the prospect of answering to a Commander-in-Chief who is a product of "miscegenation": Barack Hussein Obama's blackness suggests to them that being white may no longer mean being superior to all others; whiteness will no longer represent the de facto definition of American identity or citizenship within or without the United States.
A larger complexity arises when one considers that large swaths of Americans believe that Senator Obama is secretly an Arab and a Muslim planning to collude with jihadis in the subversion of the American government once in office. When the McCain/Palin ticket suggests that Obama has been "pallin' around with terrorists" like Bill Ayers (and it is only recently that we've begun talking openly about late Sixties radicals as terrorists), the real insinuation, the notion stoking racist rabidity across the country, is that Obama, a Kenyan-Kansan born and raised in Hawaii, is actually not an American, but a Middle Eastern terrorist.
Though Frank Rich's insightful column, "The Terrorist Barack Hussein Obama," suggests that Americans are more concerned with their economic circumstances than with Obama's ethnic background, I suggest that we pay attention to the ways in which the McCain/Palin tactics have given license to racists and their desire to make Obama invisible, if not to make him disappear permanently.
In his 2002 essay “Whose War: The Color of Terror,” John Edgar Wideman explains that the language of terror and terrorism has finally been removed the definitional field for noting specific tyrannical governing practices or specialized wartime tactics, leaving us to understand terrorism as “pure evil.” Wideman argues further that this conceptualization is born from the age-old story of how power works between racial/ethnic groups set in opposition to each other:
To label an enemy a terrorist confers the same invisibility a colonist's gaze confers upon the native. Dismissing the possibility that the native can look back at you just as you are looking at him is a first step toward blinding him and ultimately rendering him or her invisible. Once a slave or colonized native is imagined as invisible, the business of owning him, occupying and exploiting his land, becomes more efficient, pleasant.What this has justified finally, is that against all other narrative possibilities, “only one point of view, one vision, one story, is necessary and permissible, since what defines the gaze of power is its absolute, unquestionable authority.” The rabid citizens who oppose Obama's candidacy, because they hate or don't trust Negroes, on the grounds that he's not a true citizen, or because he is actually an undercover agent for Hamas and Hezbollah, are actually interested in maintaining the political (and psychological) power of the gaze. They don't want the narrative of Americanness as whiteness to be disrupted.
What is most fascinating about the spike in the race/ethnic baiting, vitriolic speech is that it is vacant of any political argument. The discourse has been infused with language that resists integrity, thus it resists narrative and argument. That is, rather than telling honest stories about the differences between their policy positions and Obama's, the McCain/Palin ticket has decided to squelch pointed exchange (argument) in favor of stoking the most dangerous, counter-democratic, white supremacist claims against African American citizenship.