With John McCain well behind in current polling with only just over 3 weeks to go, it's no surprise that his campaign is trying to play dirty. Just how dirty is a real worry.
Last week Sarah Palin was let off the leash to say that Obama was 'palling around with terrorists' (that's "pal-ing" rather than "palling" or "Palin", for those of you who've previously been confused by Palin's loose command of American English). The specific story is that Obama was on a public committee with a guy called Ayers who was once in a 60s/70s left-wing terrorist group called the Weathermen. None of this is new - it all came out earlier in the campaign. And by the time Obama knew Ayers he was long past being a terrorist.
But the specifics of the Ayers case aren't the real point of the exercise. The point of the exercise (and of McCain's phrase "that one" used to describe Obama in the second presidential debate last week) is to increase the "otherness" of Obama. To make him seem more 'un-American' and therefore more dangerous to swing voters who are receptive to Obama's general policy line (and particularly his economic policies) but worried about this guy with a weird name, who perhaps seems a bit of a risk. It's what the Tories in their 2005 UK election campaign called a 'dog whistle' strategy.
Except that the dog whistle is being heard by another group of voters who aren't swing voters by any means... but rabid right-wing lunatics.
If you do a search on YouTube for "McCain rally extremism" you'll find some worrying stuff. For example, here there are people shouting out "terrorist" and "kill him!" when McCain mentions Obama. There are plenty more examples like that.
McCain did speak out this weekend at one rally to say that Obama was a "nice family man" and didn't deserve these kinds of offensive insults from the crowd. But that was only one rally out of dozens.
I don't think John McCain thinks Barack Obama is a terrorist, but by failing to stamp on this stuff as hard as he possibly can, he's in danger of opening a very nasty can of worms - as veteran civil rights hero and Congressman John Lewis has pointed out.
There's a lot of worry on sites like FiveThirtyEight that Obama is in danger of being assassinated on the campaign trail. I'm not sure if this is an exaggerated fear or not because I don't know how well presidential candidates are protected. I assume that because George Bush has survived 8 years (almost), presidents are well protected, but I don't know enough about candidates. The people who aren't protected, though, are the many thousands of Obama workers on the ground. It's quite possible that someone might get beaten up, stabbed or shot by some of these Republican extremist goons. And if that were to happen, there would be a good case for saying that McCain was to blame.
Thank f*** there are only 3 weeks of this campaign left 'cos it looks like it could turn VERY nasty out there. It would be very nice to see Barack get through to polling day in one piece. After which, of course, the REAL danger starts. As many people have already pointed out, the extreme right in the US hated Clinton, who was a triangulating centre-right winger. So, given that Obama is perceived by the right-wingers as more radical, imagine what they are gonna try to do to him. Frankin Roosevelt was the subject of an attempted fascist coup: any bets against it this time round?