Monday, October 06, 2008

Did Palin Pull 'Race Card' on Obama by Claiming Alleged Links to 'Terrorists?'


Having Gone 0-for-2 in the Debates So Far and Rapidly Losing Ground in the Polls, McCain Camp Fires Opening Salvo in New Offensive Against Obama with Palin Accusing Him of 'Palling Around With Terrorists' -- But She May Have Stepped into a Dangerous Minefield of Racial Politics by Stoking Some White Voters' Post-9/11 Fears of Dark-Skinned Arabs, Muslims



Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin took the 2008 campaign to an unprecedented height of fear-mongering Saturday when, during a rally in Carson, California, she accused Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama of "palling around with terrorists," citing a New York Times story examining Obama's political relationship with William Ayers, a former member of the radical 1960s group the Weather Underground. But in attempting to brand Obama a "radical," Palin is wading into the dangerous minefield of racial politics by not-so-subtly trying to stoke a persistent -- and false -- belief among some white voters that Obama, the first African-American to make a serious run for the White House, is a Muslim with ties to Islamic extremists. (Photo: Charles Carlson/AP)


(Posted 5:00 a.m. Monday, October 6, 2008)

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SPECIAL REPORT
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By DOUGLASS K. DANIEL and JIM KUHNHENN
The Associated Press


By claiming that Democrat Barack Obama is "palling around with terrorists" and doesn't see the U.S. like other Americans, vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin targeted key goals for a faltering campaign.

And though she may have scored a political hit each time, her attack was unsubstantiated and carries a racially tinged subtext that John McCain himself may come to regret.

First, Palin's attack shows that her energetic debate with rival Joe Biden may be just the beginning, not the end, of a sharpened role in the battle to win the presidency.

"Our opponent ... is someone who sees America, it seems, as being so imperfect, imperfect enough, that he's palling around with terrorists who would target their own country," Palin told a group of donors in Englewood, Colo. A deliberate attempt to smear Obama, McCain's ticket-mate echoed the line at three separate events Saturday.

"This is not a man who sees America like you and I see America," she said. "We see America as a force of good in this world. We see an America of exceptionalism."

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TOP PALIN AIDES WILL TESTIFY IN 'TROOPERGATE' PROBE AFTER ALL

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- Seven aides to Governor Sarah Palin have reversed course and agreed to testify in an investigation into whether the Republican vice-presidential nominee abused her powers by firing a commissioner who refused to dismiss her former brother-in-law.

There is no indication, however, that Palin or her husband will now agree to testify in the legislative inquiry, which has dogged her for the past several months and could hurt John McCain in the final weeks of the presidential race.

Palin, a first-term governor, is the focus of a legislative investigation into her firing of Public Safety Commissioner Walter Monegan a year after she, her husband and key advisers began questioning him about getting rid of a state trooper who had gone through a nasty divorce with her sister.

Monegan says he was dismissed because he wouldn't fire the governor's former brother-in-law, Michael Wooten, but Palin contends he was dismissed for insubordination. McCain operatives called Monegan a "rogue" who repeatedly tried to work outside normal channels for requesting money.

Lawmakers had subpoenaed the seven Palin aides to testify in the inquiry but they challenged those subpoenas. After a judge rejected that challenge last week, the employees decided to testify, Alaska Attorney General Talis Colberg said.

Democratic state Senator Hollis French, who is managing the investigation, said that, following the court ruling, he again asked Palin and her husband, Todd, whether they planned to testify.

"We've had no response," French said Sunday.

-- The Associated Press

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OBAMA NOT ABOVE CHARACTER ATTACKS, EITHER -- BUT PALIN CROSSED A LINE WITH UNSUBSTANTIATED CLAIM

Obama isn't above attacking McCain's character with loaded words, releasing an ad on Sunday that calls the Arizona Republican "erratic" -- a hard-to-miss suggestion that McCain's age, 72, might be an issue.

"Our financial system in turmoil," an announcer says in Obama's new ad. "And John McCain? Erratic in a crisis. Out of touch on the economy."

A harsh and plainly partisan judgment, certainly, but not on the level of suggesting that a fellow senator is un-American and even a friend of terrorists.

In her character attack, Palin questions Obama's association with William Ayers, a member of the Vietnam-era Weather Underground. Her reference was exaggerated at best if not an outright falsehood.

Already, Palin was forced to defend her claim on Sunday, saying the Democratic presidential nominee's association with a 1960s radical is an issue that is "fair to talk about."

Palin insisted that her comments "are about an association that has been known but hasn't been talked about. I think it's fair to talk about where Barack Obama kicked off his political career, in the guy's living room."

Later, at a California fundraiser, Palin elaborated on her attack, claiming one of Obama's advisers had described Obama and Ayers as "friendly."

"In fact, Obama held one of his first meetings hoping to kick off his political career in Bill Ayers' living room," she told the crowd, which had just raised $2.5 million for the Republican Party's McCain-Palin Victory 2008 fund.

At issue is Obama's association with Ayers. Both have served on the same Chicago charity and live near each other in Chicago. Ayers also held a meet-the-candidate event at his home for Obama when Obama first ran for office in the mid-1990s, the event cited by Palin.

Obama has denounced the radical views and actions of Ayers, a founder of the violent Weather Underground group during the Vietnam era. On Sunday, Obama dismissed the criticism from the McCain campaign, leveled by Palin, as "smears" meant to distract voters from real problems such as the troubled economy.

At a rally in North Carolina, Obama countered that McCain and his campaign "are gambling that he can distract you with smears rather than talk to you about substance." The Democrat described the criticism as "Swift boat-style attacks on me," a reference to the unsubstantiated allegations about 2004 Democratic nominee John Kerry's decorated military record in Vietnam.

[Also on Sunday, the Obama campaign struck back with a hard-hitting Web ad recalling McCain as one of the "Keating Five" senators who met federal regulators on behalf of a California savings and loan institution that collapsed in 1989. The ad faults McCain as unwilling to regulate the financial industry.

[With the McCain camp losing ground in opinion polls -- and so far having lost the first presidential and only vice-presidential debate, according to viewer surveys -- a McCain campaign strategist was quoted as saying the Republican presidential candidate needed to "turn the page" on the economic issue and make the election about Obama's experience and character.]

AP ANALYSIS: NO EVIDENCE OF CLOSE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN OBAMA AND AYRES

In February, Obama strategist David Axelrod told the Politico.com Web site: "Bill Ayers lives in his neighborhood. Their kids attend the same school. They're certainly friendly, they know each other, as anyone whose kids go to school together."

But an analysis by The Associated Press found that while Ayers and Obama are acquainted, the charge that they "pal around" is a stretch of any reading of the public record. And it's simply wrong to suggest that they were associated while Ayers was committing terrorist acts.

Obama was an eight-year-old boy at the time the Weather Underground claimed credit for numerous bombings and was blamed for a pipe bomb that killed a San Francisco policeman.

No evidence exists they were "pals" or even close when they worked on community boards years ago in Chicago and Ayers hosted a political event for Obama early in his career.

PALIN'S 'ATTACK DOG' ROLE AIMED AT DRAWING ATTENTION AWAY FROM NATION'S ECONOMIC WOES

With her criticism, Palin is taking on the running mate's traditional role of attacker, said Rich Galen, a Republican strategist.

"There appears to be a newfound sense of confidence in Sarah Palin as a candidate, given her performance the other night," Galen said. "I think that they are comfortable enough with her now that she's got the standing with the electorate to take off after Obama."

Second, Palin's incendiary charge draws media and voter attention away from the worsening economy. It also comes after McCain supported a pork-laden Wall Street bailout plan in spite of conservative anger and his own misgivings.

"It's a giant changing of the subject," said Jenny Backus, a Democratic strategist. "The problem is the messenger. If you want to start throwing fire bombs, you don't send out the fluffy bunny to do it. I think people don't take Sarah Palin seriously."

The larger purpose behind Palin's broadside is to reintroduce the question of Obama's associations. Millions of voters, many of them open to being swayed to one side or the other, are starting to pay attention to an election a month away.

For the McCain campaign, that makes Obama's ties to Ayers as well as convicted felon Antoin "Tony" Rezko and the controversial minister Jeremiah Wright ripe for renewed criticism. And Palin brings a fresh voice to the argument.

PALIN INSISTS ISSUE 'NOT ADEQUATELY DISCUSSED' -- BUT IT WAS, AT PENNSYLVANIA PRIMARY DEBATE

During her stop in California, Palin, asked about the AP analysis that said her charge about Ayers was unsubstantiated -- a point made by other news organizations -- she answered flatly, "The Associated Press is wrong," arguing that the issue had not been adequately discussed.

In fact, Obama was questioned about Ayers during a prime-time Democratic debate against Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton prior to April's Pennsylvania primary.

Palin, recharged after last week's debate against Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden, is animating the party's conservative wing with harsh attacks against Obama. She's courting high-dollar donors for campaign cash. And she is looking to wrestle away women and independent voters from the Democrats.

"The heels are on, the gloves are off," she declares, a threat delivered with a smile.

PALIN TO CAMPAIGN IN STATES WHERE MCCAIN HAS FALLEN BEHIND OBAMA

With that message, the campaign is sending her on a whirlwind tour of political trouble spots.

On Sunday, she was headed for a rally in Omaha, Nebraska, a defensive move in one of the two states in the nation that can split their electoral votes. Her visit illustrated the depth of worry within the McCain camp. Since 1964, all five of the state's electoral votes have gone to the Republican presidential candidate.

On Monday, she begins a two-day, event-packed tour of Florida that stretches from Naples in the South to Pensacola in the panhandle. North Carolina and Pennsylvania are next.

After a hold-your-ground debate performance last week, Palin is back to where she was after her show-stopping speech at the Republican convention a month ago — the top draw in the McCain-Palin ticket.

PALIN STILL UNDER A 'COCOON' FROM REPORTERS, DISMISSES CRITICS

She's still the carefully handled national politics greenhorn. Reporters traveling on her plane are kept at a distance. At fundraising events she doesn't take questions in public from donors, as McCain does. Contributors greet her privately before she allows the press in for her stump speech.

She brushes off some of her criticism as if it were lint on her jacket.

"People say that I speak too simply, or don't have quite the — I don't have my thesaurus in my back pocket all along through my speeches," she told donors in Englewood, Colorado. "Well, I don't have time for that."

On Sunday she told donors she had been asked why she had done so poorly in interviews with CBS News anchor Katie Couric. "You know what I should have said?" she joked. "It's job security for Tina Fey" -- the woman who impersonates her on NBC's "Saturday Night Live."

WITH NEW ATTACKS, PALIN WALKS INTO DANGEROUS MINEFIELD OF RACIAL POLITICS

Palin's words avoid repulsing voters with overt racism. But is there another subtext for creating the false image of a black presidential nominee "palling around" with terrorists while assuring a predominantly white audience that he doesn't see their America?

In a post-September 11 America, terrorists are envisioned as dark-skinned radical Muslims, not the homegrown -- and mostly white -- anarchists of Ayers' day 40 years ago. With Obama a relative unknown when he began his campaign, the Internet hummed with false e-mails about ties to radical Islam of a foreign-born candidate.

Whether intended or not by the McCain campaign, portraying Obama as "not like us" is another potential appeal to racism. It suggests that the Hawaiian-born Christian is, at heart, un-American.

The fact is that when racism creeps into the discussion, it serves a purpose for McCain. As the fallout from Wright's sermons showed earlier this year, forcing Obama to abandon issues to talk about race leads to unresolved arguments about America's promise to treat all people equally.

John McCain occasionally says he looks back on decisions with regret. He has apologized for opposing a holiday to honor Martin Luther King Jr. He has apologized for refusing to call for the removal of a Confederate flag from South Carolina's Capitol.

When the 2008 campaign is over will McCain say he regrets appeals such as Palin's?

A LONG HISTORY OF CHARACTER ATTACKS IN PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGNS

Effective character attacks have come earlier in campaigns. In June 1988, Republican George H.W. Bush criticized Democrat Michael Dukakis over the furlough granted to Willie Horton, a convicted murderer who then raped a woman and stabbed her companion. Related TV ads followed in September and October.

The Vietnam-era Swift Boat veterans who attacked Democrat John Kerry's war record started in the spring of 2004 and gained traction in late summer.

"The four weeks that are left are an eternity. There's plenty of time in the campaign," said Republican strategist Joe Gaylord. "I think it is a legitimate strategy to talk about Obama and to talk about his background and who he pals around with."

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Volume III, Number 62
Special Report Copyright 2008, The Associated Press.
The 'Skeeter Bites Report Copyright 2008, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.









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