The final weekend of an often ugly presidential campaign is about to get uglier. In a race that has set all kinds of records, none captures this moment in political history more than the ugly attacks directed at Democrat Barack Obama. Voters should not open their e-mail, turn on their television or collect their mail between now and Tuesday without bracing for a toxic spill.
These are not the usual distortions of a candidate's record or agenda. Some supporters of Republican John McCain have set a new low for the modern era by comparing Obama to socialists and dictators and resorting to racial and religious bigotry. Some of this garbage is in our own back yard.
The chairman of Hillsborough County's Republican Party sent members an e-mail Wednesday warning that "carloads of black Obama supporters coming from the inner city" were heading to the polls to cast their votes. The e-mail, written by a volunteer, was forward by chairman David Storck to 400 party members, whom Storck urged to "please pass it on." To their credit, state party members and McCain's campaign condemned the e-mail. It was blatantly racist, and though Storck apologized, he also tried to downplay the appeal to bigotry. He has embarrassed the party. Hillsborough Republican leaders have only one viable option: Force Storck to resign or be permanently stained by his actions.
That's just one example of trash circulating through the Internet. Other Florida Republicans are forwarding a months-old newspaper column that compares Obama's rise to the ascent of Fidel Castro in Cuba. An open letter last week from an arm of James Dobson's Focus on the Family, an evangelical Christian group, sees this in the tea leaves for Obama's first term: homosexuals receiving bonuses to enlist and leading camping trips with the Boy Scouts. Tens of thousands of Christians fired from teaching jobs. Pornography on television, Russia taking over Poland and Hungary and yearslong waits for emergency surgery. Christian right groups, like other advocacy groups, often ramp up attacks near the end of election campaigns to warn their followers of the dire consequences of losing. But these doomsday scenarios, playing out most often in e-mail and Web sites, are little more than desperate scare tactics disconnected from reality.
The most extreme tactics are from just a fraction of Republican supporters, but they taint the entire party. They also flourish in the atmosphere McCain has helped create. In the latest smear, McCain and his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, have made inflammatory remarks about Obama's ties to a controversial but respected Middle East scholar named Rashid Khalidi. They have compared Khalidi to neo-Nazis and called him a PLO spokesman. A McCain spokesman on CNN claimed Obama "hangs around people who are anti-Semitic." Obama has made it clear he does not agree with many of the views expressed by Khalidi, a former University of Chicago professor and the director of a Middle East institute at Columbia University. Khalidi holds controversial views and is a strong Palestinian supporter, but it is contemptible to make an impossible leap from Obama to Khalidi to neo-Nazis.
This is exactly the sort of toxic campaigning McCain once vigorously attacked. But don't expect it to stop before Tuesday.