11/18/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

McCain's Kitchen Sink Strategy McCain NewsLadder

With less than three weeks to go in the run-up to the presidential election, the McCain campaign, with help from the Republican National Committee, continued to keep its focus on attempts to discredit the Democratic contender, Sen. Barack Obama, more than on the policy goals of G.O.P. standard-bearer Sen. John McCain -- or those of either man, for that matter.

In a week that featured RNC-sponsored robo-calls in battleground states alleging all manner of evil from the Democratic nominee, the McCain campaign, apparently with a little help from the Bush Justice Department, continued to demonize the non-profit, community-organizing group, ACORN, which conducts a large-scale voter registration program among low-income citizens. During Wednesday night's debate, McCain sought to link Obama to ACORN, which he called a threat to "the fabric of our democracy."

Meanwhile, many issues of interest to major constituencies -- issues such as immigration, reproductive health and gender equity -- went largely unaddressed. But first, a little levity.

When last we left you, gentle reader, our friend Ezra Klein, in summing up last Wednesday's final presidential debate, had all but dared some enterprising videohead to do just what our colleagues at The Minnesota Independent have done.

Here's Ezra:

Someone is going to create a vicious video of McCain's eye roles, neck bulges, sighs, head tilts, death stares, and evident moments of gastrointestinal distress.

Well, perhaps not so vicious; more of a loving tribute: (video link) John McCain, Man of a Thousand Faces

Okay; enough fun. Now let's take a look at these allegations against ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. Among the many things that ACORN does (like organize the survivors of Hurricane Katrina to rebuild their neighborhoods), it registers voters from among the people it serves. It does this by hiring contract workers, a few of whom rip off ACORN by just filling in registration forms with fraudulent information. Many of these bad registrations are even caught by ACORN and flagged for the public officials who will evaluate them. (Some states require that once a registration form is filled out under a group's aegis, it must be submitted to the state, even if it contains errors.)

These bad registrations form the basis of a widespread campaign to tar ACORN as an agent of voter fraud. Indeed, "ACORN" has become the routine response to documented concerns about voter disenfranchisement at the polls, as occurred in Ohio and elsewhere during presidential election night in 2004.

At Mother Jones, Jonathan Stein writes of one pre-debate salvo in the McCain camp's war on ACORN:

At a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, the McCain campaign put the chairmen of its "Honest and Open Election Committee," former Republican Senators John Danforth and Warren Rudman, front and center before the national media.


The Senators didn't quite accuse Barack Obama of orchestrating massive voter fraud, but they came close.

The leadership of ACORN, Stein writes, requested a sit-down meeting with Danforth and Rudman, who had, at press time, not taken up the offer. Stein explains:

The McCain campaign has a political interest in declining the invitation. After all, why would it put to bed a controversy that has the ability to energize its base in the final weeks of the election?

McCain himself declared that "voter fraud" could lose him the battleground state of Florida. That's one way to have blame placed and ready should he actually lose the state on the merits. (Don't forget that Florida Gov. Charlie Crist seems quite disinterested in campaigning for McCain, telling reporters that he would do so if he has some extra time in his schedule.) Talking Points Memohas the video of McCain's comments to a local Florida news station.

Last night came word of an F.B.I. investigation of ACORN's activities, an investigation in which leader of the Obama campaign,according to Zachary Roth of TPM Muckraker, sees links to the U.S. Attorneys scandal that ultimately led to the resignation of former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. And so does David Iglesias, one of the U.S. Attorneys fired during Gonzales' tenure for refusing to pursue what he saw as baseless allegations against ACORN's voter registration drive in New Mexico.

All of this makes even more delicious the find by our friends at Truthdig of a 2006 video of McCain addressing an ACORN-sponsored immigration rally in Miami (what state is that again?), at which he lauded the event as being what America is all about.

If the ACORN business doesn't fulfill your need for distasteful campaign news, how 'bout the latest batch of robocalls from the Republican National Committee? Greg Sargent of TPM Election Central has the audio of a call recently blasted through landlines in North Carolina, a once-safe Republican state that is now in play. A female voice makes the long-ago-discredited accusation that Obama opposes providing medical care to fetuses that survive botched abortions. The call ends thusly:

Please vote -- vote for the candidates who share our values. This call was paid for by McCain-Palin 2008 and the Republican National Committee at 202 863 8500.

Other McCain/RNC robo-calls, Sargent reports, include:

* One that questions Obama's patriotism by saying he put "Hollywood above America" during the financial crisis.

* One that says that Obama and Dems "aren't who you think they are" and claims they merely "say" they want to keep us safe.

* One that attaches him to "domestic terrorist Bill Ayers," whose group "killed Americans."

McCain's apparent scorched-earth approach to campaigning led Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wisc.), McCain's colleague and co-sponsor of the famous campaign-finance legislation to tell The Nation's John Nichols:

"It won't seem credible for the John McCain I know to say his campaign should be respectful, while seeming to look the other way as his campaign employs certain tactics and rhetoric which apparently are intended to appeal to the fears of some Americans."

New America Media's Andrew Lam, author of Perfume Dreams, sees a parable for McCain in Shakespeare's MacBeth:

In his desire to be king, Macbeth destroyed the kingdom itself and brought chaos to the moral order. So obsessed is he with his vision to be king, he compromised all that was good about him.

The parallels with senator McCain are striking. Descendant of Navy admirals, and a war hero, his presidential campaign, unlike any in recent memory, has gone over to the dark side by stoking the fire of racism. With ads calling Senator Obama "Dangerous" and "dishonorable" while Sarah Palin, his running mate, went on the offensive, with phrases like, "This is not a man who sees America as you see it and how I see America," and "palling around with terrorists," the once veiled racism became overt. As Lady Macbeth, she is full of glee and smiles as she goes about her task of character assassination.

As his campaign has stoked the passions of fearful voters with such attacks on Obama, McCain has been called to account for some of the more unsavory characters that he and his running-mate, Sarah Palin, have trafficked with. According to Max Blumenthal, blogging for The Nation, the McCain campaign "went into full damage control" when David Neiwert, Blumenthal's co-author on a Salon piece (we reported it in last week's column), appeared on "CNN Newsroom" to discuss Sarah Palin's associations with two Alaska secessionists, one who claimed to have enough weaponry in his basement "to raise an army."

According to Blumenthal, the McCain campaign issued a statement during Niewert's appearance that read, "CNN is furthering a smear with this report, no different than if your network ran a piece questioning Senator Obama's religion." To which Blumental retorts:

By referring to Obama's "religion," the McCain-Palin campaign, obviously attempted to provoke the most inflammatory charge leveled against Obama's character: What religion is he? Is he a crypto-Muslim?The McCain campaign also asserted an equivalency between Obama's religion and Palin's political ties to a far right group.

When McCain returned on Thursday to the "Late Show with David Letterman", he probably didn't expect an easy time of it. But neither did he likely expect to have to defend his association with and embrace of G. Gordon Liddy, "the "mastermind behind the Watergate burglary," according to Salon's Alex Koppelman, who recounts McCain's Letterman appearance.

Indeed legendary Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein wrote that in 1998, Liddy, who Bernstein says, at one time planned "to firebomb a Washington think tank and assassinate a prominent journalist", gave a fundraiser in his Arizona home for McCain's senatorial campaign, and that McCain lauded Liddy during a 2007 appearance on Liddy's radio show.

At the Washington Monthly's Political Animal, Steve Benen highlighted the revelation by Murray Waas that "William Timmons, the Washington lobbyist who John McCain has named to head his presidential transition team, aided an influence effort on behalf of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein to ease international sanctions against his regime."

While many commentators have seen the tactics of the McCain campaign as a reflection of its flagging poll numbers, one potential bright spot appeared this week. Among Asian voters, a group that may prove to be key in this election cycle, 34 percent remain undecided, according the National Asian American Survey. While Obama clearly led McCain, with 43 percent to McCain's 22, the high numbers of undecided could swing McCain's way, according to, via New America Media.

Perhaps that large number of Asian undecideds has something to do with absence of talk about issues that enthuse them. For instance, reports Jonathan Adams of ColorLines' RaceWire, neither McCain nor Obama has had much to say about immigration:

Because of the economy, neither candidate wants to be the one to bring up the issue. Immigrants aren't coming to the United States as quickly now--historically, this is typical during bad economic times--but the next administration has to come up with a plan to deal with the inevitability of immigration.

Women, too, aren't hearing much on their issues. Peggy Simpson of Women's Media Center reports that Lifetime TV is pursuing to the wire a live candidates' forum on issues important to women. Apparently the McCain camp balked at one proposal because the leaders of several of the women's groups involved were pro-Obama:

Talks with the campaigns for a more extended forum on women's issues have gone on since early July. CNN had been brought in as a probable sponsor as well--and CNN then objected to the direct sponsorship by the National Council of Women's Organizations (NCWO) because some of its members had backed Obama.

NCWO's Kim Otis said only five of the 240 groups had endorsed Obama but they did include some of the heavyweights such as the National Organization for Women. And the candidates had both appeared at African-American and Hispanic forums that included individuals who backed Obama.

On the eve of Wednesday's debate, a person close to the Lifetime-campaign talks said "they're still continuing."

In the meantime, AlterNet has done the service of putting togther a compare-and-contrast accounting of the candidates' positions on reproductive justice and gender issues. (Another AlterNet guide details "The 10 Biggest Differences Between Obama and McCain That Will Affect Your Daily Life.")

While some predict that the rash of anti-gay-marriage ballot measures afflicting the presidential campaign may play well for McCain, not everybody agrees, reports Mother Jones' Josh Harkinson:

The tacit support for gays by prominent Republicans such as [Florida governor Charlie] Crist and California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger plus the recent defeat of anti-gay-marriage amendments in Iowa and Indiana suggest that opposition to gay marriage may no longer be a slam dunk for the GOP.

Speaking for another core constituency, veteran investigative journalist James Ridgeway cautions liberals against being too nasty about McCain's age. Writes Ridgeway:

Every year, despite their purported senility and decrepitude, elderly people like myself somehow manage to hobble to the polls with their canes and walkers, or zip down in their golf carts or aging Cadillacs, and figure out which lever to pull or which little box to fill in.

Another 17 days -- not that I'm counting, or anything.

--Adele M. Stan

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting
about John McCain. Visit
for a complete list of articles on McCain. And for the best progressive reporting on two
critical issues, check out and is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of 50 leading independent media outlets, and created by NewsLadder. Adele M. Stan is executive editor of The Media Consortium's syndicated reporting project.