Unable to slow Barack Obama's momentum or win on issues such as health care and the economy, John McCain has resorted to character assassination. It is common for a struggling campaign to change the subject, but this abrupt change in strategy is beneath the Arizona Republican who claims to value honor and integrity. McCain needs to put a stop to it in tonight's second presidential debate before he does permanent damage to his own reputation.
Over the weekend and again on Monday in Clearwater, Sarah Palin tried to scare voters by attacking Obama's ties to 1960s-era radical Bill Ayers, one of the founders of the violent Weather Underground. The Alaska governor accused Obama on Saturday in Colorado of "palling around with terrorists who would target their own country.'' Since Obama was 8 years old when the Weather Underground was claiming credit for bombings, that was quickly labeled as a lie. So Palin retooled the line for Clearwater, calling Obama "someone who sees America as 'imperfect enough' to work with a former domestic terrorist who targeted his own country.''
The intent remains the same: Scare white voters by exaggerating the links between a black presidential candidate and onetime violent radicals. Raise doubts about those associations while questioning Obama's patriotism and implying he is too radical to identify with middle class values. And do it in the context of a speech that later leads to chants of "USA!" and is delivered with a backdrop of supporters dressed in red, white and blue. It's not subtle, and voters ought to reject these campaign smears.
In fact, Obama has said Ayers "engaged in detestable acts'' in the 1960s. In fact, an examination of the ties between the two by the New York Times concluded "the two men do not appear to have been close.'' They served together on boards overseeing a Chicago schools project in the 1990s and a Chicago charity from 2000 to 2002. Ayers hosted a neighborhood gathering of Democrats in 1995 where Obama was introduced as he prepared for a state Senate race. Obama once praised a book on juvenile courts by Ayers, and Ayers contributed $200 to Obama's 2001 re-election campaign to the state Senate. They still live in the same Chicago neighborhood. They appear to have had little contact in recent years, and there is no evidence Ayers has had any influence in Obama's presidential campaign or his thinking on key issues.
For Ayers, there is no escaping his radical past. He is an author and college professor in Chicago, where the mayor says he has done positive things for the city and should be judged by his entire life. But the campaign for president is about the future, not Obama's casual ties to a 1960s radical that had nothing to with violence or extremism.
McCain was on the receiving end of devious campaign attacks in the 2000 Republican primary. He knows better than to spread such gross distortions and innuendo. He is better than this, and he can demonstrate it tonight by putting a stop to the lies and smears.