Obama has recently taken the lead over McCain, leading to another round of negative tactics.The pundits are generally taking the view that McCain is trying to get the focus off the economy and onto character. Presumably McCain’s people think they can win in the character area while they are not confident about what will happen if they stick to the issue of the economy.
Over the weekend, Palin accused Obama of being pals with terrorists. This charge is, of course, based on his association with Bill Ayers who was part of the 1960s radical group popularly known as the Weathermen. The evidence seems to be that Obama had fairly limited contact with Ayers. Further, while Ayers was a 1960s radical, he seems to have settled down into a pleasant academic and bourgeoise existence by the time he met Obama.
One reply from the Obama camp was that Obama did not know Ayers’ background. While this is possible, it strikes me a very implausible. First, it seems odd that he would not ask any questions or take steps to learn about the man. Second, it seems very odd that he would be unaware of such history. The group is famous-so much so that I knew about them as an undergraduate. Of course, I was a poli-sci and philosophy major with an interest in radical politics, so perhaps my knowledge was unusual.
The reply should have been to point out the fact that when Obama met Ayers, Ayers was not a terrorist. Rather, he was (and is) a middle class academic who has a radical past. Naturally, if Palin has evidence that Ayers is still a terrorist, she needs to provide that information to law enforcement so they can arrest him. If she is merely talking about events from 40 years ago, then she really has nothing new or damaging to say.
In the case of McCain, people in the Obama camp have pointed out McCain’s involvement in the Keating Five incident. This was a serious scandal and had some rather unpleasant economic consequences. However, compared to the economic disaster of today, it was but a tempest in a teapot. The investigation cleared McCain of any wrong doing, but did note that he had shown poor judgment. After that, McCain made a serious effort to restore his reputation.
I think that McCain’s involvement with Keating is a far more serious matter than Obama’s association with Ayers. After all, Obama became involved with Ayers decades after the fact while McCain was directly involved with the Keating incident. Further, McCain’s poor judgment in the matter was officially established. Despite that, I think that the incident should not hang around his neck like an albatross. McCain seems to have taken serious steps to repair his reputation afterwards. However, his actions in regards to the current economic crisis have not been helping him and the shadow of the Keating Five is being cast over him today.
Naturally enough, both of these attacks are intended to raise concerns about character. While many people complain when the discussion turns from issues to character, I think that the character battle is critical. Issues are, of course important. But, when a politician gives you his position on an issue, he is just saying what he might do or what he (allegedly) thinks now. Politicians are not known for keeping their promises, so issue based voting can be risky. After all, voting for a candidate because they say X on and issue does not entail that they will do X. Character more clearly reveals what a person will do. So, I think it is actually useful to put some emphasis on character-that will help inform the public what the candidates are likely to do if elected. Of course, much of what is said about character is lies and damned lies, but some truth will come out. Interestingly, we can learn a great deal about the candidates’ characters by what they say about each other. Petty, mean people say petty mean things regularly. Great people do not need to sink to that level, though they might be tempted to do so. So, bring on the negativity-let us see just how mean, petty and vicious you candidates can be.