Oct. 4, 2008
"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."
Gov. Sarah Palin
Former 1960s radical leader William Ayers was at most a bit player in the 2008 campaign until the New York Times ran a front-page story examining his relationship with fellow Hyde Park resident Barack Obama. The story concluded they weren't close (and never "palled around,") but that didn't keep John McCain's running mate from raising doubts about Obama's patriotism and suspect "associations." (Ayers, the former head of the Weather Underground and now a respected education professor in Chicago, was the only "terrorist" she had in mind, despite the plural noun). McCain insisted he didn't care about a "washed-up terrorist" but rather Obama's truthfulness and judgment about their relationship. But the stinging attack marked a general heightening of rhetoric against Obama, which in turn sparked disturbing reports of threats shouted against the candidate at GOP rallies. The anger and distrust grew so heated that McCain himself felt compelled to interrupt a questioner and stand up for his opponent at a rally late in the campaign. It was far from the closing argument he had in mind, and a clear sign the attack had backfired at a crucial time.