McCain proving just too dang nice for Limbaugh and the Dittoheads


MEDIAWATCH:THE RIGHT-WING media, led by Rush Limbaugh, the richest and most influential talk radio host in America, is mad at John McCain. According to Limbaugh and his acolytes, known affectionately as Dittoheads because they fervently agree with everything Rush says, McCain is going to lose because he's just too dang nice.

This line of reasoning, which has become something of a mantra among the hard right, holds that McCain has not done enough to focus on Barack Obama's obvious hatred of America, as evidenced by his association with any number of racists (Jeremiah Wright, the nutty preacher), terrorists (Bill Ayers, the 1960s radical) and pinkos (Acorn, the community activist group).

Dittoheads believe McCain doesn't love America enough because he doesn't hate enough Americans.

There is an air of desperation in all this. Last week's attempt to use the media to transform William Ayers into Willie Horton didn't gain much traction. It's a tough sell. First of all, Ayers is white. It's harder for middle America to get worked up over someone who looks like them.

Twenty years ago, George Herbert Walker Bush was able to play on middle America's worst fears because the Democratic nominee, Michael Dukakis, had, as governor of Massachusetts, allowed convicted murderers like Horton to temporarily leave prison on furloughs. Horton escaped and terrorised a Maryland couple, raping the woman and severely beating her fiance.

Making Willie Horton, as one Bush strategist famously put it, Michael Dukakis's "running mate" worked not just because a black urban criminal attacked a white suburban couple, but because Dukakis's policies were actually responsible for allowing a known killer to victimise innocent people. For all the thinly veiled racism, there was some substance to the charge.

The Ayers stuff is just guilt by association, and even the association is a reach. Obama was a boy when Ayers was running around with a bunch of kooks who thought that by blowing up buildings and the occasional person they could somehow end the Vietnam War. The charge, essentially, is that Obama has not come clean about how close he is to Ayers.

So what do Dittoheads really believe? Basically that Obama and Ayers sat around some room with posters of Che Guevara on the wall, smoking bones and making bombs, all the while singing the praises of the Viet Cong.

As Martin F Nolan put it for the Huffington Post, trying to paint Obama as un-American because he knows someone who was, isn't very original.

"What rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches toward the sad end of this presidential campaign? It is the shade of the late Joseph R McCarthy, who bequeathed his name to an 'ism' John McCain has clumsily exhumed," Nolan wrote. "McCarthyism asserted that if you ever met a communist, you must be a communist. Updated version: if you ever met a terrorist, you must be a terrorist."

Jay Severin, a Boston-based radio host, claimed Obama is getting sacks of money from Pakistan and Afghanistan. It seems them thar towelheads will subvert the greatest democracy in the world by, as Malcolm X put it, any means necessary. As the odious Severin discussed his ludicrous conspiracy theory with Michele McPhee, a fellow WTKK host, McPhee observed that you can tell the money is from Afghanistan and Pakistan because "it smells like goat". Lovely. They might consider dropping the T and adding one more K to the station's call letters.

Anyway, there is a natural consequence to all this talk about Obama being a closet Islamic terrorist. At McCain/Palin rallies, some called for Obama to be killed. YouTube posted any number of videos last week in which people threatened Obama's life. Dana Milbank, the Washington Post's usually cheerful if sarcastic political sketch writer, was appalled by what he saw at a Palin rally.

Palin appeared oblivious to the scary, fringe elements. Indeed, my Boston Globe colleague Sasha Issenberg noted that Palin actually "fostered a mob mentality at her rallies". Somehow, while busy accusing Obama of hating America, Palin never got around to mentioning that her husband used to belong to a party that advocates Alaska seceding from the US. Oh well.

So many smears, so little time.

McCain, to his credit, stood up to some of the more extreme elements. As Issenberg noted in a campaign trail dispatch from Lakeville, Minnesota, McCain was booed at his own rally when he rebuked a supporter who said he was scared to bring up a child during an Obama presidency.

"He is a decent person and a person that you do not have to be scared of as president of the United States," McCain said of his opponent.

To the Dittoheads, that is blasphemy. They have not come this far to praise Obama. They have come to bury him.

When an elderly woman referred to Obama as an Arab, McCain cut her off, grabbed the microphone from her and said, "No, ma'am. He's a decent family man with whom I happen to have some disagreements."

It was John McCain's finest moment, a reminder that he is, whatever you think of his politics, an honourable man, even if the Dittoheads would say it was merely confirmation that he is going to lose because he isn't tough enough. Wonder how many Dittoheads could have survived five years at the Hanoi Hilton?

The rabid right never liked McCain, never trusted him and never really embraced him after he emerged as the Republican standard bearer. The feeling is mutual. McCain never liked, trusted or embraced the rabid, and especially the religious, right.

Years ago, McCain dared to dismiss as "agents of intolerance" the religious right poster boys Jerry Falwell, who claimed that Tinky Winky was gay (you know, the handbag) and Pat Robertson, who claimed 9/11 was God's vengeance for America's immorality (you know, all those sodomites in New York). Falwell and Robertson were every bit as nutty and hateful as Jeremiah Wright, not that anybody in the right-wing media would admit as much.

Some, including Frank Rich, the New York Times's liberal columnist, say McCain cannot pour petrol on the fire and simply step back and feign surprise at the resulting inferno. "The McCain campaign has crossed the line between tough negative campaigning and inciting vigilantism, and each day the mob howls louder," Rich wrote. "The onus is on the man who says he puts his country first to call off the dogs, pit bulls and otherwise."

To be fair, McCain seems genuinely troubled by what is happening. He may not be elected president. But he is an officer and a gentleman and knows there are worse things in life.

Kevin Cullen is a columnist for the Boston Globe;