EVEN IF THE SMEARS ARE LIKELY TO FAIL, SHOULD OBAMA LET THEM SLIDE?
Sarah Palin and her running mate, John McCain, have gone to the nuclear option -- repeatedly playing the Ayers card and using Bill Kristol's column in The New York Times to bring up Jeremiah Wright again. The smart people say it isn't going to work. Howard Wolfson:
...Americans have lost a combined 1 trillion dollars in net worth in just the last four weeks alone. Just as President Bush's failures in Iraq undermined his party's historic advantage on national security issues, the financial calamity has shown the ruinous implications of the Republican mania for deregulation and slavish devotion to totally unfettered markets.
... This is a big election about big issues. McCain's smallball will not work. This race will not be decided by lipsticked pigs....
...And this assault probably will fail, and it probably will be defeated. Because the Obama campaign has figured out something pretty basic about it: Though the attacks work to touch something very deep and very real and a little bit scary in the American psyche, they're fundamentally pretty stupid. Stupider, I'd guess, than the voters, who may find a campaign based on reference to aging radicals and Columbia professors and crimes from the 1960s a bit esoteric amidst a financial crisis.
That's plausible, I guess -- in 1992, also a year of financial anxiety, Bill Clinton won on "the economy, stupid" despite facing a similar blizzard of attacks.
Unfortunately, those clouds over Clinton never went away. Clinton won, but the Clinton-haters got stronger. Before long, there was hardly anything left of the Republican Party but people who thought Clinton was the Antichrist. The self-sustaining strength of that hatred gave us a radical Republican Congress two years later, and a radical Republican president six years after that.
I think an Obama victory could be accompanied by a similar strengthening of Obama-as-Antichrist forces. Yes, the polls look terrific for Obama now, but so do the crowds for Palin.
So I find myself wanting Obama to make a statement about Bill Ayers somewhat in the style of his Reverend Wright speech -- not because I'm afraid he needs to do so to win (his campaign has been doing well by continually changing the subject back to McCain/Bushism), but because, if he really is going to be the next president, I'd like him to get to the White House with as few people as possible thinking that he got away with something and the evil forces now rule the land.
Of course, there's a lot of nonsense spewed about Obama, and it's possible Palin will allude to all of it before Election Day -- the Muslim rumors, the rumors about failing to pledge allegiance to the flag, and so on. I'm not saying Obama should make a speech about every last rumor. But the Ayers story is noxious even if it doesn't cost him a lot of votes, and I wish he'd bury it once and for all.