11/09/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Going Beyond the Pale-in: (Character) Assassination

We already knew that she was stunningly ignorant. Now she has shown herself to be shockingly evil.

John McCain is someone who has totally lost his moral compass (Sarah Palin may never have had one). He and everyone in his campaign have become what Mrs. Palin's prototype, Spiro Agnew, called (in William Safire's words), "nattering nabobs of negativism."

We have long known that many Republicans will stoop to anything to win. Karl Rove's 2004 success in depicting a man wounded in the Vietnam War as an anti-American coward and Rove's own chickenhawk president as a brave, patriotic American was disgusting.

But what the McCain campaign is doing now, principally through its winking, nose-crinkling Spiro Agnew/Dick Nixon, has gone beyond the lowest levels of Lee Atwater and Rove.

The patently false charges linking Barack Obama with terrorists not only tear the country apart, but are certain to lead some unhinged people to draw the logical conclusion. Some dupes of these reprehensible statements by Palin and McCain are going to think that a patriot must act to stop this "terrorist" from taking over the presidency.

Their shouts have already been heard from the mobs at Palin and McCain rallies this week: "Traitor!" "Terrorist!" "Kill him!" Mrs. Palin nods and winks.

When does character assassination cross the line and begin to encourage physical assassination?

Were, God forbid, the unthinkable to happen, it would not be unreasonable to charge Sarah Palin and John McCain as accessories before the fact.

They would rather lose a country than lose an election.

We knew John McCain. He was, we thought, a friend of ours. And you, McCain version 08, are no John McCain.

Have you at long last, sir, no sense of decency?

If you do, stop this evil line of campaign lies before it's too late.

{Historian Robert S. McElvaine is Elizabeth Chisholm Professor of Arts & Letters at Millsaps College. His latest book is Grand Theft Jesus: The Hijacking of Religion in America 2008-07-01-GTJcoversm.jpg.}