The character issue

Not surprisingly, given Barack Obama’s meteoric rise in American politics–so fast that the people know little about him–John McCain has raised questions about the Democratic candidate’s character. But equally important, notwithstanding McCain’s far longer career, is the character of the Republican candidate. On that score, the issue is not simply one of Obama’s negatives but McCain’s positives. As we head into the last few weeks before November 4, we notice that the McCain campaign is publicizing the fact that Obama has publicly cooperated with William Ayers, the unrepentant Weather Underground terrorist, frequently over the last 10–15 years in Chicago politics and philanthropy. That is, Obama launched his first campaign for public office in Ayers’ living room and served with his friend before that on the board of an educational foundation. Although Obama repeats that Ayers’ 1971 bombings of the Pentagon, the Capitol and a New York police station occurred when he "was only eight years old," there is no question that Obama knew fully of Ayers’ terrorism. Indeed, Ayers reaffirmed this in a New York Times article, ironically appearing on September 11, 2001, regretting that he didn’t accomplish more in his violent opposition to America’s defending South Vietnam against its communist enemy.

Obama and his campaign staff regard the criticism of his questionable association as trivial at best and the lowest form of politics at worst, reducing it to "guilt by association." But there was nothing casual about Obama’s work with "a guy in my neighborhood," as he traded on Ayers’ political connections and was not in the least disturbed by the man’s violent radical past and his no less radical "march through the institutions" of the years since. It is entirely legitimate for McCain to question Obama’s complicity with Ayers, particularly since Obama’s soaring and inspiring rhetoric tends to suppress much-needed public skepticism.

It is equally legitimate for McCain to question Obama’s 20-year collaboration with Rev. Timothy Wright of the United Trinity Church of Christ, the man who was his pastor, performed his marriage and baptized his children. Wright has been preaching anti-American, anti-white and anti-Semitic sermons for years which Obama could not have missed. McCain has not stressed the Wright connection as much as the Ayers link, but the two associates are as one in their hatred for American institutions and our way of life. Doubtless McCain is sensitive to the bogus charge of "racism," even though Wright is well beyond the pale of civil discourse and has shown himself to be utterly incapable of good citizenship.

Obama’s claim that McCain has taken the low road, allegedly because his campaign has not gained traction and he is behind in the polls, is merely the corollary to his carefully crafted image as a sort of political messiah who will unite the country and solve the problems of America fully and finally. Indeed, he has said that he is the one America has been waiting for, the country that has so far failed to reach its potential, the country that his wife, Michelle, was proud of only when Obama demonstrated a winning appeal in the Democratic primary contests. It is wrong to raise questions of character, you see, with someone whose public persona so effectively suppresses public awareness.

McCain has been alleged to have a character problem himself, his detractors claiming that he lacks good temper on occasion and is subject to occasional outbursts. Unfortunately for his critics, McCain has disappointed them in his presidential campaign. But there is no denying that McCain is a man of passion and enthusiasm–passionate about his country and enthusiastic about its prospects for more good times ahead. By contrast, and this is alleged to be his advantage, Obama projects less passion and enthusiasm than careful calculation and deliberation in all his public appearances. He may raise his voice while addressing crowds, but the tempo is measured and, I submit, intended to assure all his listeners that the country has nothing to fear from his becoming the next president of the United States.

In all three presidential debates, viewers noticed more animation in McCain’s countenance than in McCain’s. These men, as Rush Limbaugh might say, "are what they are," but one can still wonder why that is. McCain is 72 years old and Obama is 46, a difference of 26 years. For a senior citizen, McCain evidently possesses a lot of energy. He cannot effect what he does not feel, so he is the genuine article. When he questions Obama’s judgment, his promises and his programs, McCain exhibits the genuine alarm that an honest man would feel. He wants a less burdensome and expensive government that protects the nation against its enemies abroad and violent or fraudulent predators at home out of a genuine conviction. He never shades his meaning and always says precisely what he believes.

Obama’s careful articulation of his, let’s face it, traditional liberal policies of big government at home and national hesitancy abroad are designed to conceal his true feelings. His concern for the middle class is probably no more genuine than Bill Clinton’s, who also promised a middle class tax cut that he abandoned almost immediately after he took office in 1993. When Obama calmly promises to "invest" in America’s future with huge increases in government spending on health care, public works and education, he sounds as if he were doing nothing more than pointing out, the way a faithful accountant would to his less astute employer, the costs of doing business. All that Obama lacks is a green eyeshade as an effective, but deceptive, symbol for his proposed raid on the public treasury.

But sometimes the truth comes out. It did, when Obama assured Joe, the plumber, who wished to buy the business and make more money for himself, that taxing people who make at least $250,000 annually shows concern for those behind him and "shares the wealth." This mild-mannered reference to income redistribution both removed the screen from Obama’s carefully cultivated reasonable image and handed McCain the political gift that has kept on giving for Republican candidates beginning with Ronald Reagan. Taxing the rich really means discouraging anyone from getting rich who has not already become so.

Obama has every reason to keep his enthusiasm, if he has any, under wraps, for nothing arouses the suspicion of the upwardly mobile American citizenry than pie-in-the-sky promises to spread the wealth which wind up lowering the general standard of living. Given his revealing common exploits with William Ayers and Jeremiah Wright, Obama is obliged to look sober as a judge. McCain has nothing to hide but Obama has.