Thursday, October 16, 2008

McCain's Refusal to Raise Rev. Wright Issue Deepens Rift Between Nominee, Right Wing

Palin and Other Conservatives Insist that Obama's Ties to Former Pastor Are 'Fair Game' for Attack, But McCain Vetoes It as Too Racially Inflammatory; Meanwhile, 'Troopergate' Probe Widens its Scope to Look at Others in Alaska Governor's Administration and Fired Top Cop Monegan Accuses Palin of Smear Campaign Against Him

Barack Obama (left) listens to John McCain during the final ...

Republican presidential nominee John McCain (right) gestures while making a point during the third and final debate Wednesday night against his Democratic rival, Barack Obama. McCain had promised to bring up Obama's association with former 1960s radical William Ayres -- and he made good on his promise. But conservatives both inside and outside the Republican Party are angry at McCain for his steadfast refusal to also bring up Obama's relationship with his former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright. McCain fears that to do so would almost certainly trigger a backlash, with his campaign accused of deliberately playing the "race card" against Obama. (Pool photo by Gary Hershorn/Agence France-Presse)

(Posted 5:00 a.m. Thursday, October 16, 2008)


Republican presidential nominee John McCain had promised to bring up his Democratic rival Barack Obama's relationship with former 1960s radical William Ayres at Wednesday night's final debate between them in New York.

And the Arizona senator made good on his promise. Indeed, McCain went for Obama's jugular as the Republican sought to revive his flagging White House hopes, demanding to know the full extent of Obama's ties with Ayers -- echoing campaign commercials he has run to try and raise doubts about Obama's fitness to serve.

Obama promptly branded McCain's attack a diversion from the number-one issue on the minds of the voters: the country's worsening economy. "The fact that this [Ayres] has become such an important part of your campaign, Senator McCain, says more about your campaign than it says about me," the Illinois senator shot back.

Ayers, who was a founding member of the violent Weather Underground -- whose campaign of bombings took place when Obama was only eight years old -- hosted a meet-the-candidate event for Obama when he ran for the Illinois state Senate in 1996. Ayres is now a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Confronted with a new CBS News/New York Times poll showing Obama soaring to his biggest lead yet -- a hefty 14 points -- as Americans worry about the country's worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, McCain had little choice but to go on the offensive in the debate by bringing up Ayres.

But if you watched the debate, you may have noticed that there was one issue that McCain did not bring up: Obama's more than 20-year friendship with his former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright. He has steadfastly refused to do so throughout the campaign -- and his vice-presidential running mate Sarah Palin and GOP conservatives are furious with the Arizona senator for not allowing them to do so on his behalf, sources within the McCain campaign told The 'Skeeter Bites Report.

With just over two weeks remaining before the November 4 election and McCain falling farther behind Obama in the polls, Palin and several top campaign officials -- as well as hard-line conservatives both inside and outside the Republican Party -- are insisting that an all-out attack on Obama's relationship with Wright is the only option McCain has left to cast doubts in voters' minds about his opponent, the sources said.

Meanwhile, fallout from an Alaska state investigator's report that found Palin violated a state ethics law by exerting pressure to have her former brother-in-law fired from the state police has ensured that the "Troopergate" scandal, rather than fade away, will continue to cast a shadow over the Alaska governor -- and may soon drag down others in Palin's administration.


Confronted with new opinion polls showing the sour economy trumping every other issue -- and his campaign's attacks on Obama over his relationship with Ayres backfiring -- McCain has steadfastly refused to bring up the Wright issue and imposed an ironclad ban on his campaign bringing it up, either, deepening a rift between himself and conservatives.

The Arizona senator has made no secret of his fear that to bring up Wright now -- with Obama enjoying a widening double-digit lead over McCain in the polls and on track to make history as the first African-American to be elected president -- would almost certainly be seen as a last-minute desperation move and trigger accusations of McCain playing the "race card" against his opponent.

McCain is determined not to be seen as a racist, which is why he moved forcefully last Friday to extinguish a wildfire of increasingly inflammatory epithets against Obama among his more hard-line conservative supporters, including shouts "Terrorist!," "Off with his head!" and "Kill him!" at campaign rallies in recent days -- including a dramatic confrontation with a woman who told the Arizona senator to his face at a town hall-style meeting in Minnesota that she didn't trust Obama because she believed he is "an Arab."

For McCain, it was imperative for him to tamp down the angry insults quickly, before they degenerated into blatantly racist invectives or worse. "There’s a slippery slope in politics on the racial divide, and Senator McCain made it very clear early on that he did not want to get into that area," a top Republican official told the Web site. "I don’t want to be known as a racist and McCain doesn’t want to be known as a racist candidate.

"McCain felt it [bringing up Wright] would be sensed as racially insensitive,” the official continued. “But more important is that McCain thinks that the bringing of racial religious preaching in black churches into the campaign would potentially have grave consequences for civil society in the United States.”

Indeed, McCain actually defended Obama over Wright's comments last March as the controversy erupted. Appearing on the Fox News talk show "Hannity & Colmes," McCain told conservative co-host Sean Hannity that "when people support you, it doesn’t mean that you support everything [they] say. Obviously, those words and those statements [by Wright] are statements that none of us would associate ourselves with. And I don’t believe that Senator Obama would support any of those... I do know Senator Obama. He does not share those views."

Perhaps McCain was reminded of what he told Hannity before he confronted his supporters last week.


McCain's refusal to bring up the Wright issue has prompted some hard-line conservatives to scramble to find an independent organization -- a so-called "527" group -- to raise it in a last-minute blitz of TV ads. But with time running short and the Obama campaign armed with a nearly $90 million war chest and the most formidable rapid-response team in the history of modern American politics, such an effort is doubtful.

Palin adamantly insists that Wright is fair game and has made no secret of her displeasure with McCain's refusal to bring up Obama's controversial ex-pastor, who generated a firestorm last February over a sermon about the 9/11 terrorist attacks captured on a YouTube video in which he roared, "No! I don't say 'God Bless America!' I say 'God damn America!'."

In a September interview with conservative New York Times columnist William Kristol, Palin said she didn't know why "that association isn’t discussed more, because those were appalling things that that pastor had said about our great country, and [for Obama] to have sat in the pews for 20 years and listened to that -- with, I don’t know, a sense of condoning it, I guess, because he didn’t get up and leave -- to me, that does say something about character. But, you know, I guess that would be a John McCain call on whether he wants to bring that up."


In a now-famous speech on race, delivered in Philadelphia in March, Obama condemned Wright’s use of "incendiary language to express views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation; that rightly offend white and black alike."

But when Wright broke his public silence in April with a speech at the National Press Club in Washington, in which he defended his sermons, he delivered what many interpreted as a flat-out put-down of the Illinois senator. "I said to Barack Obama last year, 'If you get elected November the 5th, I'm coming after you, because you'll be representing a government whose policies grind under people.'"

Obama and his wife Michelle quit Wright's Trinity United Church of Christ in June "with some sadness." Obama said it had become clear statements made at the church by Wright "will be imputed to me, even if they conflict with my long-held views, statements and principles."


Meanwhile, Palin's problems back home in Alaska with the "Troopergate" scandal refused to go away, as the state's Personnel Board unexpectedly widened its probe Tuesday into Palin's controversial firing of Public Safety Commissioner Walter Monegan to include other ethics complaints against the governor and an examination of actions by other state employees, according to the independent counsel hired by the board to investigate the case.

The independent counsel, Tim Petumenos, would not identify the employees who are under investigation in the scandal. But in two recent letters describing his inquiry, he cited other ethics complaints against the governor and the involvement of other Palin administration officials.

At issue is whether Palin abused her authority as governor when she fired Monegan in July -- just a month before McCain picked her to be his running mate -- over Monegan's refusal to fire a state trooper who was embroiled in a bitter divorce and custody battle with Palin's sister.

The Alaska Legislature appointed a bipartisan panel to investigate the firing. The panel last Friday released a report by its lead investigator that concluded that while Palin acted well within her constitutional authority as governor to fire Monegan as public safety commissioner, she abused that authority and violated a state ethics law by joining her husband Todd in putting pressure on Monegan to fire her former brother-in-law, Michael Wooten, from the state police force.

While Petumenos would not disclose the other ethics complaints against Palin, at least two are already a matter of public record.

One, filed by Andree McLeod, a local political activist, charges that state rules governing its hiring practices were circumvented so that a supporter of Palin's 2006 run for governor could be hired. That case is not related to Monegan's firing.

The other, filed by the Public Safety Employees Association, the union that represents state police officers, alleges that trooper Wooten's personnel file was illegally breached by state officials as part of the Palin administration's drive to get Wooten fired.

John Cyr, the PSEA's executive director, said the union plans to amend its complaint to charge the administration with "harassment" of Wooten as well.


For his part, Monegan accused Palin of smearing him and has filed a formal request for a hearing to clear his name and to disprove the governor's assertion he was a "rogue" and insubordinate commissioner.

According to the request, filed by Monegan's attorney, Jeff Feldman, "Governor Palin's public statements accusing Mr. Monegan of serious misconduct were untrue and they have stigmatized his good name, severely damaged -- and continue to damage -- his reputation, and impaired his ability to pursue future professional employment in law enforcement and related fields."

Thomas Van Flein, the attorney hired by the MCcain campaign to represent Palin, disputed Monegan's claim of defamation. "We welcome the opportunity to put on all of our evidence regarding Mr. Monegan's performance," Van Flein told the Anchorage Daily News. "Whether the Personnel Board will, or can, allow this, remains unknown."

Monegan has asked the board to hold a hearing and issue public findings on whether he demonstrated a "rogue mentality" and engaged in insubordination, as Palin has charged he has.

If the Personnel Board, whose three members are all gubernatorial appointees (one of whom was reappointed by Palin last January), declines to grant Monegan a hearing, the fired public safety commissioner said he would consider taking legal action against Palin.

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Volume III, Number 66
Copyright 2008, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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