The ugliness of the last week replaces one watershed in American politics with another. Until now, the big question of the election was this:
Would a majority of American voters vote for a black man named Barack Obama?
That question has now been replaced by another:
Will a minority of Americans accept a majority vote for a black man named Barack Obama?
Polls show that McCain and Palin's attacks on Obama are pushing undecided voters to Obama, and perhaps even pushing away some who previously considered themselves "decided" for McCain. I am not suggesting, as some have, that the election is "over." I have lived through far too much politics to be that naive. But with red states from North Dakota to North Carolina teetering between pink and blue on pollsters' maps, my attention cannot help but be drawn to the toxic brew that is forming from an equal mixture of the top-down politics of the McCain/Palin campaign and gutter-up politics of their most devoted followers.
With all the focus on Bill Ayers, it is a good time to remember that the worst domestic terrorist attack in American history was committed not by 1960s radicals in Chicago but 1990s militia members in Oklahoma City. The militia movement of the Clinton years was never dismantled by legal authorities. Some of their members stepped back from the horror of Oklahoma City, but what finally drove them from the political scene was the election of GW. You just couldn't get any political traction ranting about an imagined United Nations takeover of the United States while Bush was running over the UN on his way to invading Iraq .
Now the tables have turned. What is truly dangerous is how the garbage spewed out by the McCain/Palin campaign is such ideal fodder for the paranoia that was the meat-and-potatoes of the militia movement. Republican strategists don't really believe that Obama is a terrorist or that ACORN is going to steal the election. They just hope that innuendos in that direction will sow enough doubt in the minds of independents and conservative Democrats that when they finally get alone in the voting booth they will vote their prejudice.
Thus far, polls show that this campaign of fear is having the opposite effect.
But what about the hard core true believers? The ones who take McCain and Palin's words and ads at face value, because they provide "official" confirmation for what they already believe. The ones who will believe that Obama actually is a terrorist who really will steal the election. Ask yourself: what would you do if you really, truly believed that a terrorist was about to steal a presidential election?