Thursday, October 09, 2008

And so it all comes down to Ayers...

By Michael J.W. Stickings

As I have mentioned here already -- and it is hardly a radical obsrvation -- the McCain-Palin campaign is trying to shift the race away from the issues, and specifically the economy, and towards "character" and "values," an all-too-common Republican strategy.

More specifically, what they want is for the race to be sort of culture war in microcosm:

-- On one side are McCain the war hero POW and Palin the gun-slinging hockey mom. This is the real America, the Heartland, and McCain and Pallin are the outsiders and reformists fighting for the people against Washington, New York, and Hollywood.

-- On the other side are Obama the the dangerous, uppity black guy with the imposing black wife and the Muslim middle name who hangs out with terrorists and Biden the consummate Washington insider. This is the America of the coastal elites, the un-America, the anti-America, Obama as the fear-inducing "Other," Biden as a symbol of a corrupt democratic establishment.

The question McCain and Palin are raising at their mob-crazed rallies (see here and here, for example) -- "Who is the real Barack Obama" (Biden is largely ignored) -- is meant to reinforce this either/or, us/them dichotomy, to change the narrative of the race, to get the media talking not about the issues, not about substance, but about the alleged threat that Obama poses to America.

Just as in 1988, when Lee Atwater and the Republicans turned Dukakis into a swarthy dark foreigner of dubious patriotism and trustworthiness, the McCain-Palin campaign is out to fearmonger voters against Obama. The race card can only be played suggestively, of course, but there has been no shortage of patriotism-impugning, and, of course, there are other ways to portray Obama as a dangerous "Other."

The race card was played blatantly, if still suggestively, during the Rev. Wright flare-up during the primaries, and it will likely flare up again over the next few weeks. It is guilt by association -- Obama is guilty for having associated with Wright -- but the attack involves both race and patriotism: Obama was a member of this crazy black church and was close to this crazy black pastor who hates America.

For now, though -- it has been going on since last weekend when Palin brought it up as a line of attack and, from what I can tell, has been picking up substantially since then -- McCain and Palin are focusing mostly on Obama's guilt by association with William Ayers, the one-time Weatherman and "domestic terrorist."

In reality, there is hardly anything to the Obama-Ayers relationship. Ayers is now a distinguished professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, specializing in education reform and social justice. (He is no longer a "terrorist.") He have Obama have met, they have served on boards together, sat on panels together, and Ayers once hosted a small event for Obama. And they were neighbours. But that's about it. As the New York Times put it the other day, "the two men do not appear to have been close. Nor has Mr. Obama ever expressed sympathy for the radical views and actions of Mr. Ayers, whom he has called 'somebody who engaged in detestable acts 40 years ago, when I was 8.'"

(What more should Obama have done? Should he have avoided all contact with Ayers? Should have avoided all contact with anyone who has ever done anything wrong?)

The truth isn't stopping McCain and Palin from attacking Obama over Ayers, however, and nor is McCain's own past: Consider, for example, that McCain has very publicly forgiven the Vietnamese, that he was deeply involved in the Keating Five scandal, and that he has surely, over the course of his long career, been in contact with, and hence associated with, unsavoury individuals who were still doing unsavoury things (note, in contrast, that Ayers is not now a Weatherman and that Obama did not know him when he was).

Today, as McCain-backer Ed Morrissey notes, "Team McCain has a new ad out this morning called 'Ayers', a comprehensive attack on Obama on his relationship with... Ayers." "This ad demonstrates that McCain has no intention of nibbling around the edges on Ayers. He will go after Obama with everything he has on this subject." (For more on the ad, see the Politico.)

And why? Because this is part of the culture war, with Obama linked to a (former) domestic terrorist, and hence to anti-American activities. In associating Obama with Ayers, McCain and Palin are trying to make the case, and they are making it rather explicitly these days, that Obama is himself an apologist for those activities, for domestic terrorism, and hence is not just guilty by association but actually a terrorist by association. (As Jim Hacker says to Humphrey Appleby in Yes, Prime Minister, he once had drinks at the Soviet Embassy, but that doesn't make him a communist.) This reinforces the McCain-Palin characterization (and character assassination) of Obama as the "Other," not just one who is dangerous but one who actively and vehemently hates America.

Will it work? I suspect not, or at least not much. The Ayers story has already played out, more or less. It was an "issue" during the primaries, but there wasn't anything to it then and there isn't anything to it now. The difference is that McCain and Palin are now emphasizing it above all else, and for that reason alone it will gain some traction in the media and perhaps even with some voters (as many just weren't paying attention during the primaries, when it first broke).

But it's also a sign of desperation in the McCain-Palin campaign. McCain and Palin are going after Obama with everything they have on Ayers not just because it fits their desired narrative but because they don't have anything else left. They keep talking up McCain's experience and alleged expertise ("I know," he kept repeating the other night during the debate) and their outsider-reformer credentials, but, thus far, nothing has stuck. The Palin bubble has burst, McCain's post-RNC surge has collapsed, and, on the issues that matter to voters, like the economy, it is clear that Obama has the advantage.

And so, predictably enough, McCain and Palin have gone negative, and ever more negative. It is Ayers now, but it may be Wright again soon enough.

Anything to smear Obama -- damn the truth. That's what the McCain-Palin campaign has become.

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  • Well said.

    I think it's more than shameful that Palin, after inciting the crowd to riot with this fabricated accusation of terrorism would smile and carry on rather than denounce the "kill him" shouts from the audience.

    You'd think that at least one of these born again idiots would see the parallel.

    I'm finding it impossible to find any act so despicable in American history.

    By Blogger Capt. Fogg, at 6:17 PM  

  • Ayers, Wright, and the other radical/questionable realationships have yet to be understood. Ayers was recently confronted and was speechless. Wright was an enfluence for at least 20 years. If he disagreed with his radical views I'm sure he would of not keep his family in that church. Appartently he slept during the services. It was not until the press pushed the issue; he then changed he views. I don't believe that he did it because he really thought he was wrong but because he got caught. In the Mulisum faith lying in ok if it's done to advance their causes. I think that he has many fooled.

    He is not ready for the Commander and Chief position. The encomy will fix itself over time, but our security as a sovern nation is at stake. He IS NOT the man for that job.

    May freedom is more important than money.

    Love you guys but I disagree.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:11 AM  

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