By Associated Press
Sunday, October 5, 2008
WASHINGTON – By claiming that Democrat Barack Obama is “palling around with terrorists” and doesn’t see the U.S. like other Americans, vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin targeted key goals for a faltering campaign.
And though she may have scored a political hit each time, her attack was unsubstantiated and carried a racially tinged subtext that John McCain himself may come to regret.
First, Palin’s attack shows that her energetic debate with rival Joe Biden may be just the beginning, not the end, of a sharpened role in the battle to win the presidency.
“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,” Palin told a group of donors in Englewood, Colorado. A deliberate attempt to smear Obama, McCain’s ticket-mate echoed the line at three separate events Saturday.
“This is not a man who sees America like you and I see America,” she said. “We see America as a force of good in this world. We see an America of exceptionalism.”
Obama released his own loaded-word attack on McCain Sunday, calling the 72-year-old senator “erratic,” a hard-to-miss implication that his age could be a problem.
“Our financial system in turmoil,” an announcer says in Obama’s new ad. “And John McCain? Erratic in a crisis. Out of touch on the economy.”
But Palin’s reference questions Obama’s associations and thereby his character. And her context is inaccurate.
Her reference to Obama’s relationship with William Ayers, a member of the Vietnam-era Weather Underground, was exaggerated at best if not outright false. No evidence shows they were “pals” or even close when they worked on community boards years ago and Ayers hosted a political event for Obama early in his career.
Obama, who was a child when the Weathermen were planting bombs, has denounced Ayers’ radical views and actions.
With her criticism, Palin is taking on the running mate’s traditional role of attacker, said Rich Galen, a Republican strategist.
“There appears to be a newfound sense of confidence in Sarah Palin as a candidate, given her performance the other night,” Galen said. “I think that they are comfortable enough with her now that she’s got the standing with the electorate to take off after Obama.”
Second, Palin’s incendiary charge draws media and voter attention away from the worsening economy. It also comes after McCain supported a pork-laden Wall Street bailout plan in spite of conservative anger and his own misgivings.
“It’s a giant changing of the subject,” said Jenny Backus, a Democratic strategist. “The problem is the messenger. If you want to start throwing fire bombs, you don’t send out the fluffy bunny to do it. I think people don’t take Sarah Palin seriously.”
The larger purpose behind Palin’s broadside is to reintroduce the question of Obama’s associations. Millions of voters, many of them open to being swayed to one side or the other, are starting to pay attention to an election a month away.
For the McCain campaign, that makes Obama’s ties to Ayers as well as convicted felon Antoin “Tony” Rezko and the controversial minister Jeremiah Wright ripe for renewed criticism. And Palin brings a fresh voice to the argument.