By Harold Ford Jr.
Saturday, October 11, 2008
Although our nation's economic house is on fire, John McCain isn't unveiling proposals to put out the fiscal flames. Instead, he is pursuing the presidency by taking the low road, as he and his surrogates attack Barack Obama in harsh, personal terms. It's hard to believe this is the same man who in 2004 said of the Swift-boat attacks against John Kerry: "I deplore this kind of politics. I think the ad is dishonest and dishonorable."
In fact, after McCain lost the Republican nomination to George Bush in 2000, he declared that there was a "special place in hell" for the Bush operatives who had run a smear campaign against him. By adopting the same approach against Obama, McCain diminishes his reputation and raises questions about his commitment to fairness and decency.
I know that John McCain is a man of courage and character. His ability to overcome the torture he endured at the hands of his North Vietnamese captors is a tribute to his strength and to the human spirit. But as Americans yearn for a president to lead us courageously into an uncertain future, McCain appears to be abandoning his creed of putting country first.
While I am disappointed in McCain's about-face, I am not surprised. When I ran for the Senate in 2006, my opponent, Bob Corker, also found himself trailing in the October polls. His campaign and the Republican National Committee launched a series of false and vicious character attack ads, including the infamous "call me" ad, in which a scantily clad white woman looked at the camera and said, "Harold, call me."
Every major news organization and independent ad-checking group ruled the ad a smear and deemed it way over the line. But that didn't stop John McCain from coming to Tennessee and campaigning for my opponent while the "call me" ad and other smears were broadcast across the state. Not once did McCain speak out against that ad as he did about the smear against John Kerry. In fact, the first manager he hired for his 2008 presidential campaign was Terry Nelson, the person who produced the "call me" ad. Nelson has such a history of practicing below-the-belt politics that Lee Iacocca, a strong supporter of McCain, wrote in his book "Where Have All the Leaders Gone?": "What does it say about John McCain that he's willing to make that kind of person the head of his team?"
This election may be the most consequential since Franklin Roosevelt won the presidency in 1932. Our country is at war in Iraq and in Afghanistan. The American dream is falling further out of reach of millions of families. We face intense competition from rising economic powers in Asia. And after eight years of the failed leadership of President Bush and Vice President Cheney, our image and standing around the globe are in disrepair. Our budget is burdened with runaway entitlement costs, and our public education system is failing our children.
John McCain has to make a choice over the next 3 1/2 weeks. Will he succumb to base impulses and take the country down a path littered with smears and personal attacks? Or will he focus on the future with straight talk and big ideas? America deserves solutions for its problems. Where are McCain's plans to replace the 750,000 jobs lost since the beginning of the year, to stop our financial meltdown, and to help the families hammered by the prices of gas, food and health care?
The writer is chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council. He represented Tennessee's 9th District in the U.S. House from 1997 to 2007.