If the economy has taken a clear No. 1 position - beyond terror and national security - as the issue of most concern to the voters, why is the McCain-Palin ticket spending so much time attacking Barack Obama for his past associations?
Because the fundamental issue in this campaign is Obama - his values, his beliefs, his character. Having done practically zero as an Illinois state senator, and absolutely zero during three years in the U.S. Senate, Obama has no substantive legislative record. So we're left with judging him (a) by what he says (and he has an oily ability to say anything on just about every side of every issue), and (b) by the company he keeps (and has kept).
But what does it matter - really - that he hung around with William Ayers for a decade, sat for two decades in the pews of Jeremiah Wright, was enabled early in his political career by imprisoned real-estate developer Antoin "Tony" Rezko, or retains as a campaign advisor a past head of Fannie Mae?
Let me count the ways. (1) Ayers is an unrepentant domestic Osama who bombed buildings in which people died. He's currently an advisor to Venezuela's America-hating Hugo Chavez. (2) Wright is a racial separatist who has sermonized saying egregious things.
Obama has repudiated the actions and statements of both. He has added that he hardly knew Ayers and, while a church-member, never heard Wright's hateful preachings.
Of course he has. What's more (3) Rezko was central to launching Obama into politics, and represents a major tie to the Chicago machine that raised Obama up. (4) Raines headed Fannie Mae from 1998 to 2004, the years when it did its worst, for which he walked away with nearly $100 million in salary and bonuses. The collapse of Fannie is a huge factor in the mayhem currently hammering the financial markets.
It's so mean, so extreme, even racist - and certainly desperate - for John McCain and Sarah Palin to bring these things up.
Let's speculate. If McCain - for instance - boasted Enron's Ken Lay as a campaign advisor (compare Raines), or had held an early-career campaign fund-raiser in the house of an unrepentant bomber of abortion clinics (compare Ayers), or had dozed through 20 years of sermons by a white-supremacist minister, would it be mean and extreme to mention them?
Obama terms it "erratic," "cheap," and a McCain gamble "that he can distract you with smears." It's hardly fair, as Sarah Palin does regarding Obama's associations with Ayers, for example, to say that Obama has "palled around with terrorists who would target their own country."
How is it unfair if it's true? Sure Obama wants to parry and deflect attention from these associations. He prefers not to discuss them, wishes they would go away. He understands as well as anyone that they testify to his own judgment in the past and to his honesty about them now. Judgment and honesty lie at the heart of character.
They're past history, and therefore irrelevant.
On the contrary, they go hand-in-glove with the extreme leftism of his Senate voting record (No. 1, to Ted Kennedy's No. 2 and Joe Biden's No. 3). He is hardly the moderate mainstreamer he presents to the voters with his Mr. Smoothie rhetoric. He got his start in the company of radicals and the corrupt - and if the press won't vet the past of "this fellow of strange associations" (in the words of Hollywood actor Jon Voight), then McCain and Palin must. You might look at it as providing a service to the voters.
The voters seem to be making up their minds the other way - in favor of Obama.
Maybe. But mid-October trends can change - as those such as Jimmy Carter (against Gerald Ford) and Bill Clinton (against George Bush I) have demonstrated. Obama cannot come clean about his early years, any more than John Kerry could. Truth would blow their careful cover stories. Fact would belie the fictions.
So Obama is lying?
Obama is the issue - his associations, his straightforwardness about them, his judgment in maintaining them over long periods, his character. Sarah Palin sees Obama as trying "to talk his way into the White House." John McCain says regarding Obama, "Perhaps never before in history have the American people been asked to risk so much based on so little" - so little in tangible legislative accomplishment, so little straight talk about his dubious associations.
Yet why do those associations really matter?
No one has put it better than Charles Krauthammer: "The window these associations give on Obama's core beliefs." And: "He doesn't share Rev. Wright's poisonous views of race nor Ayers' views, past and present, about the evil that is American society. But Obama clearly did not consider these views beyond the pale. For many years he swam easily and without protest in that fetid pond."
Without fuller explanation from Obama himself, it's hardly a stretch - hardly extreme - to conclude he swims there still.