The schizophrenic campaign of John McCain is getting uglier.
Losing ground as the economy tumbles, he's betting on innuendo and vilification — tactics of desperation — to defeat Barack Obama.
Voters should expect better from a candidate who boasts straight talk and bipartisanship, even if he is behind in the polls.
In campaign stops, McCain repeatedly asks, "Who is the real Barack Obama?" — implying there is a suspicious past to a man whose life has been thoroughly chronicled.
But so far, McCain has steered clear of direct attacks, leaving that to spurious ads and to vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin.
She has whipped up crowds this week by claiming that Obama pals around with terrorists and can't be trusted because, "This is not a man who sees America the way you and I see America."
Palin was referring to Obama's past and distant relationship with William Ayers, a '60s radical who was a founder of the violent Weather Underground. Ayers, now an education professor at a state university and a mainstream activist, was a neighbor of Obama in Chicago and served with him on a non-profit board that disbursed $50 million in grants dealing with school reform. They weren't friends, although Ayers hosted a coffee for Obama in his first run for office.
Palin isn't the first to hype the connection and insinuate guilt by association.
Sen. Hillary Clinton, in a regrettable comment in the last gasp of her flagging presidential bid, raised it too.
But McCain, through Palin and other surrogates, seems to be making that the focus on his campaign to distract voters from worries about the future and about the failure of his ideas.
Dredging up Obama's association with his former minister, Jeremiah Wright, no doubt won't be far behind.
Most Americans are following the election closely and have their priorities straight; they want a president who will turn the country around.
But in a close race in a time of worry, fear-mongering could sow subtle doubts among on-the-fence voters — those who'd never admit to a neighbor or a pollster that they still are uneasy about voting for an African-American
McCain can vouch for the effectiveness of the politics of aspersion.
George Bush upended his presidential bid in 2000 with a vicious whisper campaign, with racial undertones, in the South Carolina primary, saying McCain was emotionally unstable and had fathered a black baby out of wedlock.
That makes it all the more disturbing for McCain to use the tactics now.
Obama isn't above reproach in this regard. A 13-minute video produced by his campaign overstates McCain's role in the Keating Five, the members of Congress who lobbied on behalf of Charles Keating, a banker and big-spending campaign donor who was convicted in the savings and loan scandal of the late 1980s. McCain, while acknowledging he used bad judgment, was cleared of charges of misconduct.
But the McCain campaign's attacks are more unfair because they imply that Obama is disloyal and unpatriotic.
McCain is pledging to demand higher ethical standards and to rid Washington of corruption. Voters should judge his campaign by the same standard.
Thursday, October 09, 2008