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Sunday, October 12, 2008

A Bad Week For McCain

We can run through a week when the Dow plunged briefly under 8000, when a 120 point loss day look good because at one point it was a whole lot worse, when McCain slipped further behind Obama in the polls, and when McCain was not able to right his footing at a townhall debate that was supposed to be his strength.

Look at the body language of that debate and you can see where this race is going. Agree or disagree with Obama, he looked Presidential, he sounded measured and reasonable, for those who had fears about his conduct under pressure it has been largely put to rest.

In fact, it is the relatively more experience John McCain who has been increasingly to use the buzz-word from the Obama camp, erratic. Hey I can't help it, it is the best adjective. McCain has simply done things that are bizarre or perhaps best described as desperate and fleeting. He has shifted course too quickly. He has tried to go negative and recently pulled even those punches.

Let us start there because last weekend, it was Governor Sarah Palin who began the attack on Obama by connecting him with William Ayers, a former member of the Weather Underground from the 1960s and suggesting that his friendship with the 60s radical showed a lack of judgment and worse. The attacks are symbolic and suggestive as well as substantive. The symbolism of terrorism, the use of Obama's middle name, and other attacks are ways to allow people to be reminded that Obama is not the same as they are.

There are people who honestly believe that Obama is a Muslim. The most despicable display may have been the Sheriff from Florida who in full uniform attacked Obama at a McCain rally using his full name Barack Hussein Obama, as if to remind people, hey this guy is not one of us. It was almost a Vanguard moment when it was pointed out that it is illegal for a law enforcement officer to politic in uniform. When called on the issue, the Sheriff, did not seem to get it. He defended it by suggesting he was always on duty. Sorry but that's not how it works.

There is no evidence in the polling that the attacks are working. In part, I suspect that is because people are a bit more worried about substantive issues. The other thing is that you have to create these images early in a campaign. You have to plant them in the minds of voters and pound them home. In the last month, that is difficult because people have watched Obama for months now, they have seen him at the convention and at debates. They have, in short, their own view of the man.

These attacks have thus amounted largely to what they call "red meat" or fodder where the true believers rally behind, but not issues that middle of the road voters can relate. Obama's lead stretches by the day. States that I never thought would be in play, Obama may be ahead in such as North Carolina, Virginia, even Montana.

The news footage from the McCain rallies was frightening at times, when McCain was launching his attack microphones caught people saying things like he's a "terrorist" or "kill him." There has to be some responsibility here given the historic nature of Obama's run and the real dangers that exist there.

Perhaps to his credit and perhaps to his detriment, McCain has backed off the attack of late.

A man at a rally in Minnesota stood up and told mCain he was scared of Obama presidency.

McCain finally stepped up:
"I have to tell you. Sen. Obama is a decent person and a person you don't have to be scared of as president of the United States."
The crowd booed and shouted "Come on, John!" McCain quickly added:
"If I didn't think I'd be a heck of a lot better, I wouldn't be running for president of the United States."
A woman at a town hall meeting accused Obama of being an Arab, as though that were somehow the worst thing you could imagine.

McCain's response:
"No, ma'am. He's a decent family man and citizen."
On the one hand, McCain corrects her error, but on the other hand, McCain does not have the guts to say, there is nothing wrong with being an Arab, nor does he point out to her than in fact, Obama is a Christian not a Muslim.

There is a lot of ignorance going on in this race and there is a lot of ugliness rearing its heading and McCain despite attempts to ramp it down at the end of the week is a major contributor to it.

It has been a tough week for Governor Sarah Palin who is now facing ethics charges in Alaska for improperly dismissing an official who crimes was not firing an Alaska state trooper who happened to be divorcing Palin's sister. I guess abuse of power is alright if you are a maverick.

But the real irony is that she is the one throwing bombshells at Obama for his ties to domestic terrorists, while at the same time, she has ties to Alaska's Separatist Party. Palin's husband was a registered member of the Alaska Independence Party until 2002 when he re-registered as an independent voter. One of the planks is that they want Alaska to secede from the United States. Meanwhile, Governor Palin addressed the convention for this party and sent a video tape to the 2008 Convention telling the delegates to "keep up the good work" and calling their convention "inspiring."

If Palin wants Obama to explain his ties to Ayres, maybe she ought to clean out her own closet.

On October 5, she said:
"Our opponents see America as imperfect enough to pal around with terrorists who would bomb their own country."
And yet, she pals around with people who want to secede from our country and she addresses their conventions and tells them to "keep up the good work." Pot meet kettle.

So what is the truth. One of the best non-partisan sits around is

They called the attacks by McCain misleading and groundless.
"In a TV ad, McCain says Obama "lied" about his association with William Ayers, a former bomb-setting, anti-war radical from the 1960s and '70s. We find McCain's claim to be groundless. New details have recently come to light, but nothing Obama said previously has been shown to be false."
They continue:
"We find McCain's accusation that Obama "lied" to be groundless. It is true that recently released records show half a dozen or so more meetings between the two men than were previously known, but Obama never denied working with Ayers.

Other claims are seriously misleading. The education project described in the Web ad, far from being "radical," had the support of the Republican governor and was run by a board that included prominent local leaders, including one Republican who has donated $1,500 to McCain's campaign this year. The project is described by Education Week as reflecting "mainstream thinking" about school reform.

Despite the newly released records, there's still no evidence of a deep or strong "friendship" with Ayers, a former radical anti-war protester whose actions in the 1960s and '70s Obama has called "detestable" and "despicable."

Even the description of Ayers as a "terrorist" is a matter of interpretation. Setting off bombs can fairly be described as terrorism even when they are intended to cause only property damage, which is what Ayers has admitted doing in his youth. But for nearly three decades since, Ayers has lived the relatively quiet life of an educator. It would be correct to call him a "former terrorist," and an "unapologetic" one at that. But if McCain means the word "terrorist" to invoke images of 9/11, he's being misleading; Ayers is no Osama bin Laden now, and never was."
Here's the exchange in question:
McCain: Look, we don't care about an old washed-up terrorist and his wife, who still, at least on Sept. 11, 2001, said he still wanted to bomb more. ... The point is, Senator Obama said he was just a guy in the neighborhood. We need to know that's not true.

Obama never said Ayers was "just" a guy in the neighborhood. The quote is from a Democratic primary debate on April 16 in Philadelphia, and Obama actually was more forthcoming than McCain lets on. Obama specifically acknowledged working together with Ayers on a charitable board, and didn't deny getting some early political support from him. Here's the exchange:

ABC News' George Stephanopoulos, April 16: An early organizing meeting for your state senate campaign was held at his house, and your campaign has said you are friendly. Can you explain that relationship for the voters, and explain to Democrats why it won't be a problem?

Obama: George, but this is an example of what I'm talking about.

This is a guy who lives in my neighborhood, who's a professor of English in Chicago, who I know and who I have not received some official endorsement from. He's not somebody who I exchange ideas from on a regular basis.

And the notion that somehow as a consequence of me knowing somebody who engaged in detestable acts 40 years ago when I was 8 years old, somehow reflects on me and my values, doesn't make much sense, George
The article goes on to show a list of pretty mainstream and conservative people who also sit on the same board with Obama and Ayres.
Among the mainstream Chicago luminaries on Obama's board was Arnold R. Weber, a former president of Northwestern University, who in 1971 was appointed by Republican President Richard Nixon as executive director of the Cost of Living Council and who later was tapped by Republican President Ronald Reagan to serve on an emergency labor board. More recently, Weber has given $1,500 to John McCain's presidential campaign this year.

Others on Obama's supposedly "radical" board included Stanley Ikenberry, a former president of the University of Illinois system; Ray Romero, a vice president of Ameritech; Susan Crown, a philanthropist; Handy Lindsey, the president of the Field Foundation of Illinois; and Wanda White, the executive director of the Community Workshop for Economic Development.

Kurtz originally claimed that Ayers somehow was responsible for installing Obama as head of the board, speculating in his "cover-up" article that Obama "almost certainly received the job at the behest of Bill Ayers." But after days of poring over the records, he failed to produce any evidence of that in his Wall Street Journal article. To the contrary, Ayers was not involved in the choice, according to Deborah Leff, then president of the Joyce Foundation. She told the Times, and confirmed to, that she recommended Obama for the position to Patricia Graham of the Spencer Foundation. Graham told us that she asked Obama if he'd become chairman; he accepted, provided Graham would be vice-chair.

The bipartisan board of directors, which did not include Ayers, elected Obama chairman, and he served in that capacity from 1995 to 1999, awarding grants for projects and raising matching funds. Ayers headed up a separate arm of the group, working with grant recipients.
If you want to read the lengthy article click here.

The bottom line is that McCain and Palin probably could have picked a better target if they were bent on changing the subject. Given the economy in this country, more people are probably concerned about their retirement and their mortgage payments than the relationship between Obama and a 60s radical who did some really bad things when Obama was 8 years old.

If you are on the conservative side of the fence, I am sure there are many legitimate things with which to tie Obama. This is simply not one of them. And my guess is that based on the polls and lack of response from the public, this one goes away.

The amazing thing about this race is the Republicans response to the economic crisis--government intervention, bailout, and government backing of financial institutions.

There is a saying that there are no atheists in a fox hole, it appears equally true that there are no libertarians in an economic crisis. At the end of the day, that may be the biggest news that comes out of this week.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting