McCain's Attacks Missed Target in Third Debate
During Wednesday night's third and final presidential debate, the former fighter pilot John McCain proved that he doesn't know how to land an attack. Whether due to discomfort or ineptitude, McCain brought up ACORN and William Ayers in a way that had to be utterly baffling to people who don't follow politics closely.
Picking up a week-long Republican campaign against the voter-registration organization ACORN, McCain said this during the debate:
We need to know the full extent of Senator Obama's relationship with ACORN, who is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy. The same front outfit organization that your campaign gave $832,000 for "lighting and site selection." So all of these things need to be examined, of course.
That's the entirety of what McCain said about ACORN. Though it sounds bad, the attack is less credible because McCain skimps on details. ACORN, which wasn't even an issue a week ago, now threatens to destroy democracy's fabric -- we must elect McCain to be democracy's seamstress!
Because McCain was so short on specifics, Obama stepped in and explained the ACORN controversy to the debate's audience in a manner that's likely to retire the issue entirely. "ACORN is a community organization," Obama said. "Apparently what they've done is they were paying people to go out and register folks, and apparently some of the people who were out there didn't really register people, they just filled out a bunch of names. It had nothing to do with us. We were not involved."
McCain's reference to "lighting and site selection" was so obscure that I only could find one reporter who tried to explain it in his debate story. Paul West of the Baltimore Sun wrote:
[Obama] did not respond to McCain's charge about $832,000 that Obama's campaign spent during the primaries for what it says were canvassing activities.
The Obama campaign originally had said the expense included "lighting and site selection," as McCain pointed out, then later filed an amended spending report.
The $832,000 was paid not to ACORN but to Citizen Services, a campaign services firm affiliated with ACORN, according to an August Pittsburgh Tribune-Review article. The firm, which collected signatures and managed past minimum-wage ballot campaigns in four states, was paid by the Obama campaign for work conducted during the primaries from February through May. The campaign amended its FEC filing to indicate the payment was for "get-out-the-vote" efforts.
Though the relationship is worth examination because that's a large campaign expenditure, no evidence has been uncovered to suggest anything improper occured. A Democratic politician hired a political firm affiliated with the largest voter registration organization on the left. I've read several right-wing bloggers who allege that Obama's campaign tried to hide an attempt to pay ACORN by hiring Citizen Services, but their affiliation has never been a secret. A 2006 ACORN publication described the firm as "ACORN's campaign services entity."
McCain did little better with details on Ayers, claiming that he's a "washed-up terrorist" who launched Obama's first run for political office in his living room and said in 2001 he wished he had "bombed more." McCain also said that together the two men "sent $230,000 to ACORN."
Republican partisans have believed for months that Ayers was a relationship so toxic that any attempt by Obama to explain it would just make him look worse. But as Obama explained accurately last night, Ayers was an education professor respected by Chicago's political establishment by the time he met him in the '90s. Republicans and Democrats alike served with him on boards and funded his educational initiatives.
Because McCain gave the shorthand version of the Ayers controversy, Obama filled in the details for him:
Forty years ago, when I was 8 years old, he engaged in despicable acts with a radical domestic group. I have roundly condemned those acts. Ten years ago he served and I served on a school reform board that was funded by one of Ronald Reagan's former ambassadors and close friends, Mr. Annenberg.
Other members on that board were the presidents of the University of Illinois, the president of Northwestern University, who happens to be a Republican, the president of The Chicago Tribune, a Republican-leaning newspaper.
Mr. Ayers is not involved in my campaign. He has never been involved in this campaign. And he will not advise me in the White House.
Ayers did some loathsome things 40 years ago and continues to hold obnoxious views about his actions, but he was never convicted of a crime -- prosecutorial misconduct hindered the effort. He used that opportunity to rehabilitate himself and carry on a distinguished career in education. Anyone who finds it unacceptable that he was welcomed into Chicago political circles should explain the post-crime treatment of G. Gordon Liddy and Oliver North, who continue to be heroes to the right.
If politics is about defining somebody before they define you, McCain's clumsy attacks on ACORN and Ayers just gave Obama the opportunity to address them in his most favorable light. Voters think those subjects are distractions from the economic mess. The days the McCain campaign spent on them have left him with a double-digit deficit in most polls and a 1-in-20 chance to win, according to the poll analysis site FiveThirtyEight.Com.
During the debate, all McCain got out of the attacks was the sour response of CNN's independent voters. Every time he mentioned Ayers or ACORN, their opinion plummeted faster than the Dow Jones Index.
Syndicated 2008-10-16 17:00:18 from Workbench