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If you come up with something that sends a telemarketer over the edge, you have overachieved on offensiveness.

Word comes from Madison, Wis., that a telemarketer named Ted Zoromski quit his job this week over John McCain's message.

Zoromski was prepared to interrupt people during their dinner hours to encourage them to vote Republican. But when he got the script saying "you need to know that Barack Obama has worked closely with domestic terrorist Bill Ayers, whose organization bombed the U.S. Capitol, the Pentagon, a judge's home and killed Americans," he packed it in.

"Even though I was paid to do it, I didn't feel comfortable," Zoromski told WKOW-TV.

This story, relayed via Mike Allen on, struck me because I once worked as a telemarketer, and it is an occupation so soul-numbing that it is hard to imagine that anything could make it worse. I woke up people on the overnight shift who had just managed to fall asleep for the first time in six days. Sometimes, when there was clearly nobody at home, I would just let the phone ring and ring in order to avoid having to call anybody else.

Once after about 30 rings, I heard the breathless voice of a man who had climbed down off the roof in hopes that this was the critical business call he had been waiting for all year, the one that was going to change his life forever. Imagine his joy when he discovered that it was, instead, an exciting opportunity to purchase an entire packet of portrait photographs of his loved ones at a special discount price.

So truly, if you can come up with something that would send a telemarketer over the edge, you have really overachieved on the offensiveness front.

For a while, John McCain and Sarah Palin were so over-the-top about Barack Obama that people in the crowds started yelling death threats - sometimes while simultaneously begging McCain to "take the gloves off." The idea of what they were hoping to see in a postglove era scared everybody so much that the campaign tamped things down.

Opening for a McCain rally in North Carolina last weekend, Rep. Robin Hayes said he wanted "to keep the crowd as respectful as possible."

In order to pursue that goal as efficiently as possible, Hayes then announced that "liberals hate real Americans that work and accomplish and achieve and believe in God." This was an especially unfortunate turn of phrase given the fact that he had begun his remarks by saying he wanted to "make sure we don't say something stupid."

All this was a direct outgrowth of Sarah Palin's own comments in North Carolina, in which she praised the "pro-America" areas of the country.

Meanwhile, over on MSNBC, Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota was launching into the Obama/terrorist spin when she suggested that the news media should investigate "the views of the people in Congress and find out: Are they pro-America or anti-America." So far, the only person who's felt the impact of her call to reinvent McCarthyism for a post-Communist planet has been her opponent, a hitherto totally ignored Democrat named Elwyn Tinklenberg, who was stunned to discover in the following days that had received close to $1-million in donations.

When reporters first began covering political speeches in the 19th century, politicians were so appalled at the idea that somebody planned to write down what they said that they would stop speaking if a reporter showed up.

Today, in the postmacaca era, you'd figure that politicians would be so sensitive to the perpetual presence of recording devices that they'd censor their comments even while muttering to themselves when taking a shower. Not to mention comments made right after they have been made up, offered coffee in the MSNBC green room, had a technician install three different recording devices under their clothing and given a seat in front of a large camera.

But the tone of this campaign has given some of the Republican faithful, even those who are members of Congress, the impression that questioning the patriotism of large groups of the population is now okay.

Right now, all the polls predict than in less than two weeks, Barack Obama is going to be elected president. The McCain campaign disputes this. Large numbers of Obama supporters are also in doubt, possibly because they keep getting e-mails from their relatives in Toledo revealing that Obama has gone to Hawaii not to visit his ailing grandmother, but to destroy evidence that he is not actually an American citizen.

©New York Times News Service