This morning, General Colin Powell spoke eloquently for those of us who have had it with John McCain’s shameful, dishonest, and desperate attempts to discredit Barack Obama as a person.
To criticism about his blatant smear campaign, McCain has complained that he, too, has been the object of negative ads. But let’s face it: the term “negative” covers a lot of territory.
To suggest that Obama is un-American, unpatriotic, un-Christian, or untrustworthy is to appeal to the basest elements in American society. Deliberately using emotionally loaded terms like “terrorists,” “dangerous,” and “socialist” to evoke fear, hatred, and distrust—and to tolerate expressions of disdain and violence at Republican rallies—is dishonest and irresponsible.
By contrast, most of the Democrats’ “negative” ads have focused more on the issues than the opposing candidate. McCain has, in fact, voted with George Bush 90% of the time. McCain has never disputed that statement. He did, in fact, say (on “Black Monday,” no less) that the “fundamentals of the economy are strong.” And by pretty much any standard, his behavior in recent weeks can be described as “erratic”; he’s changed course many times on issues from how to address the economic meltdown to whether or not to attend a scheduled debate with Barack Obama—or, more famously, David Letterman.
The Democratic campaign is notable for the issues that haven’t been raised and the ads that haven’t been produced. Nothing’s been said, for example, about how the pregnancy of Sarah Palin’s daughter might reflect on the governor’s attitudes about sex education. Relatively little has been made of John McCain’s association with Charles Keating or G. Gordon Liddy. For the most part, the Democratic campaign has allowed unclear or contradictory arguments by McCain and Palin to be evaluated on their own merits (or lack thereof) by the public, while Obama focuses on finding real solutions to critical problems.
I’d like to think it won’t matter after the votes are counted—but it will. The world is watching. Clips are being broadcast in China and Saudi Arabia and Great Britain just as they are in California and New Jersey. The reputation of America—already so tarnished and so negative—is forming for the next phase of our international relations—which will require cooperation on issues from the world economy to containment of nuclear weapons. The next president will need support at home to bring about the cultural shifts necessary to salvage the economy, slow global climate change, improve education, and make health care available to everyone.
Given the negative impact his tactics have had on his campaign, there seems to be some hope that McCain will learn from his mistakes and stick to the issues from now on. Clearly, it’s time for him to start doing what he’s claimed to be doing all along—putting America first.