Sunday, October 5, 2008

Low Blows & Lies: What to Talk About When You're Losing on the Issues

Yesterday, Gov. Palin launched a series of attacks against Sen. Obama this weekend. The attacks are flawed, unfair, and tinged with more than a hint of racism. I guess that when you've lost an election on the issues, you may as well change the subject and talk about something else entirely; after all, that's all that Gov. Palin could do in Thursday's debate...

So what is she saying now and what are the implications of the guilt by association game that the McCain campaign has decided to play? Gov. Palin has raised Sen. Obama's past "association" (more on that in a minute) with William Ayers, a member of the Vietnam-era Weather Underground domestic terrorist organization. According to the Associated Press, at several rallies this weekend, Gov. Palin said:

Our opponent ... is someone who sees America, it seems, as being so imperfect, imperfect enough, that he's palling around with terrorists who would target their own country


This is not a man who sees America like you and I see America. We see America as a force of good in this world. We see an America of exceptionalism.

First, anyone who has ever bothered to listen to Sen. Obama knows the sheer absurdity of Gov. Palin's charge that Sen. Obama is not a patriot. But let's take a brief moment (well, OK, not so brief) to consider the charge of guilt by association ("palling around with terrorists") being leveled at Sen. Obama. Second, it is critical to remember that Ayers' terrorist activities occurred during the Vietnam War, when Sen. Obama was still a child (the acts amounted to a series of bombings that did relatively minor damage to buildings and two other members of the Weather Underground died building a pipe bomb). Though none of that does excuses Ayers, it is important to remember when we decide whether to hold it against Sen. Obama.

So what is the association between Sen. Obama and Ayers? Ayers (now an education Professor at the University of Illinois in Chicago) and his wife (also a former member of the Weather Underground) hosted a meet and greet with voters for Sen. Obama in 1995, both Ayers and Obama both served on the board (along with numerous other board members) of the Woods Fund, a non-profit, anti-poverty organization, they both live in Hyde Park (along with tens of thousands of other people), and they both worked on the Chicago Annenberg Challenge which worked to raise matching funds for charitable grants for schools (it is worth noting that Ayers was involved in starting the Challenge). As CNN found when it examined the relationship:

Obama's Chicago home is in the same neighborhood where Ayers and Dohrn live. Beginning in 1995, Ayers and Obama worked with the non-profit Chicago Annenberg Challenge on a huge school improvement project. The Annenberg Challenge was for cities to compete for $50 million grants to improve public education. Ayers fought to bring the grant to Chicago, and Obama was recruited onto the board. Also from 1999 through 2001 both were board members on the Woods Fund, a charitable foundation that gave money to various causes, including the Trinity United Church that Obama attended and Northwestern University Law Schools' Children and Family Justice Center, where Dohrn worked.

CNN's review of project records found nothing to suggest anything inappropriate in the volunteer projects in which the two men were involved.

Other publications have also examined the relationship between Sen. Obama and Ayers. According to The New York Times:
A review of records of the schools project and interviews with a dozen people
who know both men, suggest that Mr. Obama, 47, has played down his contacts with
Mr. Ayers, 63. But the two men do not appear to have been close. Nor has Mr.
Obama ever expressed sympathy for the radical views and actions of Mr. Ayers,
whom he has called “somebody who engaged in detestable acts 40 years ago, when I
was 8.”

And, as CNN reported:
Other publications, including the Washington Post, Time magazine, the Chicago Sun-Times, The New Yorker and The New Republic, have said that their reporting doesn't support the idea that Obama and Ayers had a close relationship.

And who are the plural "terrorists" that Gov. Palin is referring to? Perhaps, she's referring to Ayers' wife, Bernardine Dohrn, who is now Associate Professor of Law at Northwestern University School of Law and the Director of Northwestern's Children and Family Justice Center. Yes, Ayers and Dohrn advocated and did bad things while Sen. Obama was still in elementary school, but should their service on non-profit anti-poverty and education charities be a stain against Sen. Obama?

And, before you answer that question, query whether you know the background, warts and all, of every single person that you have ever served with on an non-profit or charitable organization (or in your business or social life, for that matter). I like to think that I'm pretty knowledgeable on politics and American history, but I'd never heard of Ayers until this "controversy" first came to light during the primary season. When you meet someone new, do you conduct a background search on them? Do you know if your neighbor or business associate was a member of the Weather Underground or the SLA or a right-wing militia 40 years ago? Do you even ask? And, if that person is now a well-respected member of the community who spends time and effort trying to help improve education and raise money for charitable organizations, how much do you really care what that person did when you were a child? How many years of good deeds does it take to repent for bad acts? Remember: Sen. Obama is not accused of endorsing Ayers' views (either his views today, whatever they may be, or those he espoused during the Vietnam era); instead, Sen. Obama is accused of being unpatriotic because he "pals around with terrorists."

One more note, before I move on. Do you suppose that the reason that this charge keeps being raised against Sen. Obama (and the reason that Gov. Palin uses the generic term "terrorists") is because it is really designed to raise questions as to whether Sen. Obama is American enough? Is the charge designed to make people wonder if this black man with the weird name might really be a Muslim or be an enemy of America who has stealthily worked his way into a position of power? Those sorts of racist charges and undertones have been lurking around as long as Sen. Obama has been running for office. It is just sad to see the McCain campaign resorting to running a racist, xenophobic, smear campaign instead of an honest campaign focusing on a discussion of issues without resorting to lies. But then what else should we expect after what we've seen from Sen. McCain over the last month or so?

So, Gov. Palin (and Sen. McCain -- after all, he has to approve the message) want to play the game of guilt by association. Well, let's play that game for a moment.

We'll start with Gov. Palin. As has been widely reported and discussed (for example, see my September 3, 2008, post "Who Is Sarah Palin?"), Gov. Palin's husband, Todd, was a member of the Alaska Independence Party for years. That party includes in its platform the possibility of Alaska seceding from the United States and was founded by a man who refused to be buried in the United States because he hated our government so much. And, while Gov. Palin has tried to distance herself from the Alaska Independence Party, she has had to admit that she did attend at least one party convention and spoke at another one while a sitting governor for another party. As I asked in early September:
And why, as Governor of Alaska, did Gov. Palin feel it was necessary or even appropriate to send a welcome message to the AIP for their state convention? I'm not exactly convinced that this is just a matter of procedure. After all, I can't see Gov. Daniels sending a welcome message to Indiana's Libertarian Party convention (let alone the Democratic Party convention). I don't recall seeing President Bush welcoming the Democrats to their National Convention. I'd be curious to know if Gov. Palin sent a similar message to Alaska's Democratic Party when they held their state convention. Was her welcome message just a simple ministerial function of her office or did it indicate some degree of support for the views and goals of the AIP?

Let's compare: Serving on non-profit boards with a Vietnam-era terrorist turned professor of education involved in charitable fundraising vs. a husband who is a member of a secessionist anti-American party that the candidate has offered encouraging words to?

While we're talking about Gov. Palin, let's not forget some of her friends, like the witchhunter who claims that wicked "Israelites" store money for good Christian businessmen in the same blessing that he uses to help Gov. Palin escape from demons and evil spirits (and who may have been responsible for the deaths of "witches" in Africa), the executive director of Jews for Jesus who claims that the death of Israelis from terrorist bombs is God's "judgment of unbelief" while Gov. Palin politely listens, and the pastor who claims that Alaska will be a refuge in the coming "end of days" as Gov. Palin nods in enthusiastic agreement. Oh, don't forget now-indicted Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens (presently on trial for accepting bribes). Then-Mayor Palin was a director of Ted Stevens Excellence in Public Service, Inc., a 527 group that could raise unlimited funds from corporate donors. And Stevens was a major supporter of Gov. Palin during her gubernatorial bid.

Let's compare: Vietnam era terrorist vs. Anti-Semitic witchhunter, the executive director of a group known for its acts of fraud in trying to convert Jews who espouses support for terrorists killing Israelis, the pastor who looks forward to the coming end of days, and the bribe-taking Senator who helped get Gov. Palin elected and with whom she worked on a not-for-profit political action committee seeking to raise political (not charitable) contributions.

Now, let's move on to the main show: Sen. McCain. How guilty is he from his associations?

Let's start with G. Gordon Liddy. Remember him from Watergate? He was convicted of planning the break in and served time in jail. He has also claimed to have planned the assassinations of Howard Hunt and journalist Jack Anderson. And, on his radio show, he told listeners how to kill agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. Charming. And, if you read about Liddy, you'll find that these are only some lovely examples of his actions; there is more... Well, guess what. Apparently, Sen. McCain thinks quite highly of Liddy. According to Media Matters:
Liddy has donated $5,000 to McCain's campaigns since 1998, including $1,000 in February 2008. In addition, McCain has appeared on Liddy's radio show during the presidential campaign, including as recently as May. An online video labeled "John McCain On The G. Gordon Liddy Show 11/8/07" includes a discussion between Liddy and McCain, whom Liddy described as an "old friend." During the segment, McCain praised Liddy's "adherence to the principles and philosophies that keep our nation great," said he was "proud" of Liddy, and said that "it's always a pleasure for me to come on your program."

Additionally, in 1998, Liddy reportedly held a fundraiser at his home for McCain.

Sen. Obama makes clear that he does not endorse Ayers past actions or views; Sen. McCain recognizes Liddy as someone who adheres to the "principles and philosophies that keep our nation great". Gee, I didn't know that political crime, assassination, and planning to kill government agents were the principles and philosophies that kept America great. I must have become confused somewhere along the line thinking that those were bad things. How silly of me.

Sen. McCain also has problems with his own board memberships. According to Paul Bergala (as seen in this video):
John McCain sat on the board of a very right-wing organization, it was the U.S. Council for World Freedom, it was chaired by a guy named John Singlaub, who wound up involved in the Iran-Contra scandal. It was an ultra conservative, right-wing group. The Anti-Defamation League, in 1981 when McCain was on the board, said this about this organization. It was affiliated with the World Anti-Communist League -- the parent organization -- which ADL said “has increasingly become a gathering place, a forum, a point of contact for extremists, racists and anti-Semites.”

And, of course, we can't forget Sen. McCain's early political mentor and sponsor of his early political career: Charles Keating. Remember him and the Keating Five which included Sen. McCain? Keating served 5 years in jail for his role in the failure of Lincoln Savings and Loan Association through which he bilked investors of an estimated $1.1 billion and which cost the American taxpayer approximately $2 billion. And Sen. McCain? He got a slap on the wrist from the Senate for trying to help his friend in what Sen. McCain has acknowledged as the greatest mistake of his political life. Don't forget that the savings and loan crisis cost taxpayers upwards of $120 billion in the 1980's; I'm not sure how that compares to $700 billion in 2008 dollars...

So let's compare again: Vietnam-era terrorist vs. Watergate mastermind who brags about planning political assassinations, ultra-right-wing group with Anti-Semitic and racist viewpoints, and one of the biggest players in the last major banking crisis to face America (and in which Sen. McCain was intimately involved).

Does the McCain campaign really want to play the game of "guilt by association"?


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At Monday, October 13, 2008 6:23:00 AM , Blogger erk said...

Mike, this is excellent, and I plan to send this to a number of my confused relations who diligently forward every panicked anti-Obama mass e-mail they receive.

Extremely well-done. Thank you. It's also going onto Google Reader and Facebook, for whatever that's worth...

At Monday, October 13, 2008 5:28:00 PM , Blogger MSWallack said...

Thanks for the kind words. If you liked this post, you might want to read some of the others that I've posted over the last few weeks including More on McCain's Friends; Does He Really Want to Play Guilt By Association?, More on Guilt by Associaton, and Analysis of a Malicious Lie.


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