Speaking of stuff that was on today’s op-ed page, did you read the other piece, the one by the two profs — no, wait, just one of them was a prof (at Furman); the other might more accurately be termed a "writer" — about how that awful John McCain ought to "know better" than to criticize Barack Obama over his associations because of the way he, McCain, was treated in the 2000 GOP primary here? An excerpt:
Here we go again. Politicians falling in the polls are resorting to
character slurs and political smears. To the people of South Carolina
it’s deja vu — all over again.
week John McCain’s campaign launched a web advertisement about Barack
Obama’s ties to a “domestic terrorist.” Sarah Palin claimed that Obama
sees America “as being so imperfect … that he’s palling around with
terrorists who would target their own country” and repeatedly commented
on Obama’s “association” with “terrorists.”
It is a chilling indictment. But false.
sad irony. In the 2000 primaries, after John McCain defeated a heavily
favored George Bush by 19 percentage points in New Hampshire, the Texas
governor’s campaign was in trouble. If Bush lost the S.C. primary,
where his opponent was already popular, he had little chance of
stopping McCain. Something had to be done. Anything.
What did you think of the piece? Personally, I thought the premise was silly and way off-base. So why did I run it? Well, we run all sorts of views on the op-ed page, and I think a lot of them are silly and off-base. That’s all part of the public conversation. Specifically, I chose to leave this one on the page for two reasons:
- There are a lot of people criticizing McCain these days along precisely these lines, and this was practically a textbook case of it. I especially like the tut-tutting tone attesting to how very disappointed the authors were in McCain ("Such sad irony.") — that is a trait
common to these sorts of assertions. So this was a good example of
that, and written from an SC angle. I thought it such a good example that I even overlooked the painfully trite bit about "deja vu all over again." (If only poor Yogi had a nickel for every time, huh?)
- It was good to run it as a counterpoint to the Charles Krauthammer piece we ran on Friday, which stuck up for McCain over the Ayers stuff, etc., and criticized him only for having been too fussy to bring this stuff up long before.
Why did I think it silly and off-base? Oh come ON, people! Raising the subject of Bill Ayers — even in clumsy, demagogic language such as "palling around with terrorists" — is in NO WAY like making up a lie about John McCain’s adopted daughter that is specifically and particularly and reprehensibly designed to appeal to the worst racist instincts in the S.C. electorate. Say whatever else you want to say about it, but that’s an extreme stretch. It is ONLY logical if you mean that saying something that reflects poorly upon an opponent’s character is the same as any other instance of doing so. Which is silly.
The authors’ perception of moral equivalence seems to lie in the fact that they believe this, too is "false." But I missed the part where they, or anyone else, has demonstrated that. To the contrary, Obama has had dealings with Bill Ayers, and while the exact nature or extent of said relationship remains fuzzy, what little we know indicates that it was more friendly than, say, inimical. So what you’re left with is quibbling over the quantitative meaning of "palling around," and the generally incendiary, hamhanded style of the assertion by that silver-tongued wordsmith Sarah Palin, or the coarseness of crowds who eat that stuff up.
Or do you think that Bill Ayers is NOT an unrepentant terrorist? If so, I need to see the evidence. Because what I’ve seen argues to the contrary.
Tell you what. I’m going to stop being shy and tell you what I really think — I disagree both with Messrs. Manuto and O’Rourke AND with Krauthammer. I just told you why I disagree with the first two gentlemen. The part I disagree with Krauthammer over is the idea that McCain should have been hammering on this stuff all along. Personally, I wish he weren’t bringing it up NOW. It’s not going to accomplish anything positive — it just speaks to the great divide in our politics left over from Vietnam. That was a battle we didn’t think we were going to fight in this campaign.
And here’s where there is a kernel of a point in the O’Rourke-Manuto piece; they just spoiled it by grotesquely exaggerating it. And it’s this: this is not consistent with the style that has make McCain so popular with those of us who love to watch both sides in the culture wars get mad at him. There’s nothing WRONG with mentioning Ayers; it’s not a foul. But it’s not the style of play we go to McCain for.
There are better ways to say what the McCain campaign has been getting at with the Ayers stuff. For instance, it was stated fairly well in a piece in The Wall Street Journal last week (although the overall thrust of the piece, headlined "News Flash: The Media Back Obama" is in itself another tired cliche):
…Mr. Obama… is the leading exponent of the idea that our lost nation requires rehabilitation in the eyes of the world — and it is the most telling difference between him and Mr. McCain. When asked, in one of the earliest debates of the primary, his first priority should he become president, his answer was clear. He would go abroad immediately to make amends, and assure allies and others in the world America had alienated, that we were prepared to do all necessary to gain back their respect.
It is impossible to imagine those words coming from Mr. McCain. Mr. Obama has uttered them repeatedly one way or another and no wonder. They are in his bones, this impossible-to-conceal belief that we’ve lost face among the nations of the world — presumably our moral superiors. He is here to reform the fallen America and make us worthy again of respect. It is not in him, this thoughtful, civilized academic, to grasp the identification with country that Mr. McCain has in his bones — his knowledge that we are far from perfect, but not ready, never ready, to take up the vision of us advanced by our enemies. That identification, the understanding of its importance and of the dangers in its absence — is the magnet that has above all else drawn voters to Mr. McCain….
The thing is, it’s impossible to imagine a campaign event for John McCain hosted by Bill Ayers. McCain has done a great deal over the years to reach out to people who were opposed to the war in Vietnam, and even to his former captors — he has acted heroically to normalize relations with their country. But there’s no way he would have been associated with a guy who’s proud of HIS association with the bombings of the NYC police HQ, the U.S. Capitol and the Pentagon.
Barack Obama HAS been associated with that guy, however fuzzy (and subject to debate) that connection may be. And that speaks to a difference in worldview. But I doubt we’ll ever have an intelligent discussion of that difference.