Fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy month.
Now that the McCain-Palin crowd have figured out that they are on course to lose the White House, expect a resurgence of all the sleazy and all too familiar GOP tactics designed to appeal to the basest prejudices and most primal fears of the American electorate. Look for all the old calumnies and lies to resurface: Barack Obama is a Moslem, or was a Moslem, or could be a Moslem. Obama is a radical, or was a radical, or knows a radical. Obama is an anti-Semite, or was an anti-Semite, or knows an anti-Semite. Obama supports sex education for kindergartners. Obama will raise everyone's taxes. Obama is somehow un-American because, well, he doesn't look like us (hint, hint). Remember the vile swift-boating of John Kerry four years ago? Be prepared for the updated, vitriolically enhanced 2008 version.
It has already started. Yesterday, Sarah Palin publicly accused Obama of "palling around with terrorists who would target their own country." Since she uttered this incendiary smear on the very day that a front-page New York Times article conclusively debunked the notion that Senator Obama has had anything but the most superficial contacts with Bill Ayers, a founder of the radical Weathermen of the late 1960s and early 1970s, not only Governor Palin but her handlers and speechwriters knew perfectly well that her allegation was blatantly false. They also know that Obama has called Ayers "somebody who engaged in detestable acts 40 years ago, when I was 8." But none of this matters to the scorched earth Svengalis of the McCain-Palin campaign.
The GOP's unprincipled electioneering is likely to become especially ugly in the Jewish community. We are certain to hear Joe Lieberman's sonorous voice shamelessly distorting Barack Obama's record and trying to scare elderly Jewish retirees to vote Republican.
Here's an urgent memo to Jews in South Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Missouri, Colorado and Nevada (not to mention New York, California, New Jersey, Illinois and elsewhere) who listened to Ed Koch rather than Joe Lieberman in 2004: Please do so again this year!
Four years ago, Lieberman endorsed and campaigned for John Kerry, while former New York Mayor Ed Koch strongly supported George W. Bush. Indeed, the Republican ticket's success in Florida was credited in large part to Koch's endorsement. As between Koch and Lieberman, the Jews living in the Sunshine State clearly considered Koch to be the more credible.
I don't know what makes Joe Lieberman tick. The Connecticut Senator, who used to care about civil liberties, choice, gay rights, and the like, has stood by silently while the McCain campaign has spread lie after lie about Barack Obama in their ads. He looked the other way while his new cronies mocked Obama relentlessly at the Republican Convention. Earlier this summer, when he was being considered by McCain as a possible running mate, New York Times columnist Gail Collins described Lieberman as "a guy who will do anything to move up" and who "is certainly capable of dumping everything he has ever believed in and assuring the anti-choice, anti-union, anti-government folk that he is on their team."
This time around, Ed Koch is supporting Barack Obama. In 2004, Koch believed that George W. Bush was going to be better for Israel than John Kerry. Less than a week ago, Koch told a Jewish audience in Florida that this year, the Democratic and Republican presidential and vice presidential candidates "are all in support of the security of Israel; that is no longer on the table. Take it from me, I know. I know Israel would be protected by an Obama-Biden administration."
Ed Koch is absolutely right, of course. Barack Obama has a consistent record of strong, unwavering support for Israel. In June of this year, Senator Obama told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, that "Israel's security is sacrosanct. It is nonnegotiable." In a similar vein, Obama has been unambiguous in his opposition to Iran's nuclear ambitions. "I will do everything in my power," he said in his AIPAC speech, "to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon." Obama also has longstanding ties to the Jewish community and shares the values of the overwhelming majority of American Jews.
When Ed Koch first endorsed the Obama-Biden ticket, he explained that:
"the country is safer in the hands of Barack Obama . . . . Protecting and defending the U.S. means more than defending us from foreign attacks. It includes defending the public with respect to their civil rights, civil liberties and other needs, e.g., national health insurance, the right of abortion, the continuation of Social Security, gay rights, other rights of privacy, fair progressive taxation and a host of other needs and rights.
"If the vice president were ever called on to lead the country, there is no question in my mind that the experience and demonstrated judgment of Joe Biden is superior to that of Sarah Palin. Sarah Palin is a plucky, exciting candidate, but when her record is examined, she fails miserably with respect to her views on the domestic issues that are so important to the people of the U.S., and to me. Frankly, it would scare me if she were to succeed John McCain in the presidency."
It would have been nice, even honorable, if we could have had an election campaign based on ideas and ideals, but the Republican attack machine knows that it cannot compete on such a level playing field. The McCain-Palin campaign is convinced that the only way they can win is by scaring and lying and defaming. It's up to the voters to send them back into their caves or under their rocks. And to all of you across the United States who look up to and respect Ed Koch for his honesty and personal integrity, I repeat: If you followed Ed Koch's lead rather than Joe Lieberman's in 2004, please follow Ed Koch's lead again on November 4th and vote for Barack Obama.
Menachem Rosensaft is a lawyer in New York City