Reap what you sow

On Sept. 2, John McCainâÄôs campaign manager, Rick Davis, told reporters, âÄúThis campaign is not about issues.âÄù On Friday, McCain held a town hall meeting down in Lakeville. A man stood up and told McCain that he and his wife were âÄúscared of an Obama presidencyâÄù and the idea of raising their first child in such an America. At the same meeting, a woman told McCain that she couldnâÄôt trust Barack Obama because âÄúheâÄôs an Arab.âÄù Last Saturday, Gov. Sarah Palin called Barack Obama someone who has been âÄúpalling around with terrorists.âÄù WeâÄôre now seeing what happens when a candidate runs an entire campaign intended to make voters afraid of the other guy. It isnâÄôt pretty, and even McCain himself seems to be realizing that. But it appears the Arizona senator doesnâÄôt have anything he can do about it. As the financial crisis mounted, McCainâÄôs campaign began shifting focus. Clearly, the crumbling of the economy âÄî the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped nearly 20 percent in a week and a half âÄî favored Obama. The McCain campaign admitted as much: An anonymous GOP operative was quoted in The Washington Post saying, âÄúWeâÄôve got to question [ObamaâÄôs] associations âĦ ThereâÄôs no question that we have to change the subject, here.âÄù And change the subject they did. For the past week, the McCain campaign has gone all out, trying to convince enough voters that Obama is some kind of Manchurian candidate primed and ready to bring down our government from the inside. McCain, giving his stump speech, summed up the new strategy: âÄúWho is the real Barack Obama?âÄù And from there, things started getting especially nasty. At one rally, Palin brought up ObamaâÄôs supposed relationship with former weatherman Bill Ayers. âÄúKill him!âÄù screamed someone in the crowd. At another Palin rally, the Alaska governor laughably misquoted Obama, claiming he said our troops in Afghanistan were âÄúair-raiding villages and killing civilians.âÄù Said a member of the audience: âÄúTreason!âÄù At another rally, some members of the crowd turned on a network sound man who was black, yelled racial slurs at him and told him to âÄúsit down, boy.âÄù And the worst moment of all came right after McCain delivered his âÄúwho is Barack Obama?âÄù line. Someone in the crowd helpfully chipped in, âÄúTerrorist!âÄù All of this hatred finally boiled over in Lakeville, when McCain was forced to defend ObamaâÄôs honor. He implored the crowd to show some respect, saying, âÄúI admire Sen. Obama and his accomplishments. I will respect him.âÄù The town hall crowd booed. McCain told the concerned parent that Obama âÄúis a person that you do not have to be scared [of] as president of the United States.âÄù More boos and cries of anguish from his assembled supporters. And he told the untrusting woman that Obama is âÄúa decent, family man, citizen, that I just happen to have disagreements with.âÄù When a campaign chooses to run on the basest kind of identity politics instead of actually focusing on issues that matter, these sorts of things happen. The entire logic of the McCain campaign for president has been based on the idea that Obama is too [inexperienced/liberal/comfy with terrorists] to run the country. It should come as no surprise, then, when McCain supporters get the impression that Obama is dangerous to our country, and thatâÄôs a rather depressing place for a campaign to go. To his credit, McCain looked appropriately horrified when confronted face-to-face with the hatred his campaign has mustered. Answering the Lakeville crowd, McCain sounded despondent. His face sank as he listened to the anti-Obama remarks. At times, he bordered on begging the crowd to show some respect for his opponent. But without attacking ObamaâÄôs character, where can the McCain campaign go? Normally, one would say, âÄúTalk about the issues!âÄù The problem, however, is that the issues favor Barack Obama âÄî especially the economy, which matters far more than anything else, at this point. McCainâÄôs history as a champion of deregulation and his unfortunate remark that âÄúthe fundamentals of our economy are strongâÄù make it rather difficult for him to credibly opine on matters economic, and heâÄôs shown no ability to talk directly to the middle class in either debate, so far. Things arenâÄôt going much better for McCain in the foreign policy realm. Gen. David Petraeus has been saying that âÄúyou have to talk to enemies,âÄù seemingly contradicting McCainâÄôs attacks on Obama for suggesting just that. There now appears to be some division within the McCain campaign as to where they should go. A report in SundayâÄôs London Times says that Palin continues to push for harsher attacks, while others favor an âÄúhonorable defeatâÄù over tactics sure to discredit McCain. ItâÄôs probably best to take international reporting of domestic politics with a grain of salt, but the possibility of a change in course is heartening, nonetheless. At this point, it seems overwhelmingly unlikely that McCain will be able to close the gap in the weeks between now and Election Day. But, in any case, the mudslinging tactics have obviously backfired. Any time a candidate has to actively defend his opponent in front of supporters, things have gone terribly wrong. Perhaps we can look forward to a few weeks of campaigning that actually focus on important issues. McCain has nothing to lose by making that switch âÄî heâÄôs lost it all, already. John Sharkey welcomes comments at [email protected]