Ross Mackenzie

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."

Ross Mackenzie

Ross Mackenzie lives with his wife and Labrador retriever in the woods west of Richmond, Virginia. They have two grown sons, both Naval officers.

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