Who Are John McCain and Sarah Palin?

If the GOP swift boaters continue to disparage Obama, McCain's past relationships with supporters of paramilitary death squads and Palin's secessionist proclivities become fair game.
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The fear mongers and race baiters are rearing their ugly heads again. Repeatedly, speakers at McCain-Palin rallies -- one in a sheriff's uniform -- rile up their base by referring to the Democratic presidential candidate as Barack Hussein Obama. At the same time John McCain and Sarah Palin crassly accuse Obama of "palling around with terrorists" even though they are perfectly aware that this incendiary charge is blatantly false. By now, everyone with a pulse knows that Senator Obama has only had the most superficial contacts with Bill Ayers, a founder of the radical Weathermen of the late 1960s and early 1970s, who had become a respected Chicago educator long before the two first crossed paths. McCain and Palin also know, but somehow never bother to mention, that Obama has called Ayers "somebody who engaged in detestable acts 40 years ago, when I was 8."

A quick observation about names. As I first wrote more than six months ago, the idiots among us who consider someone's given name to be an indication of anything, let alone political ideology, should bear in mind that there are no more American, patriotic, motherhood and apple pie names than George (Washington), (Abraham) Lincoln and (Norman) Rockwell. Put them together, however, and you get George Lincoln Rockwell, the notorious long-time leader of the American Nazi party.

More to the point, if McCain and Palin insist on making past relationships a part of this campaign, they should be forced to answer some questions about their own murky associations with questionable political parties, groups and individuals.

Lynnette Clark, chairwoman of the extreme right wing, secessionist Alaska Independence Party, first met Governor Sarah Palin at the AIP's 2006 convention. Clark recently told David Talbot of Salon.com that Palin "impressed me so much... As I was listening to her, I thought she sounds like what we've been saying for years. I thought to myself, 'My God, she sounds just like Joe Vogler.'"

Joe Vogler, the founder of the Alaska Independence Party, had pronounced political views. His nuggets of wisdom, featured prominently on the AIP's website, include "I'm an Alaskan, not an American. I've got no use for America or her damned institutions," and "The problem with you John Birchers is that you are too damn liberal!"

Earlier this year, Palin told the most recent AIP convention to "keep up the good work." That's nice. The Republican vice presidential candidate encourages a party whose principal goal is a statewide vote on whether Alaska should secede from the United States, and whose founder had "no use for America or her damned institutions," and who considered the John Birch Society to be "too damn liberal." Apparently, this does not bother the usually patriotic John McCain. Go figure.

But wait, there's more. Salon.com has just published an article by Max Blumenthal and David Neiwert, "Meet Sarah Palin's radical right-wing pals," that lays out in detail Palin's involvement with leading members of the AIP, and how they helped launch her political career. And we all know Sarah Palin's husband Todd was a member of the AIP for seven years, from 1995 until 2002. Doesn't that mean that she has been more than "palling around" with an erstwhile member of an anti-American political group?

Or what about John McCain's involvement with the reactionary U.S. Council for World Freedom? The head of the Republican ticket joined its advisory board in 1982, after the Anti-Defamation League had denounced the organization's parent organization, the World Anti-Communist League, as "a gathering place, a forum, a point of contact for extremists, racists and anti-Semites." According to Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post, the Council for World Freedom was "linked to ultra-rightwing death squads in Central America." McCain was prominently listed on the organization's letterhead for several years. The McCain campaign claims that he resigned from the CWP's advisory board in 1984, but McCain attended the group's Freedom Fighter of the Year award ceremony on October 3, 1985. What unsavory characters were at that event, and did McCain "pal around" with them? This is every bit as relevant (or irrelevant) as pinpointing when Barack Obama first learned that Bill Ayers had been a radical.

And by the way, why have McCain and Palin never criticized Walter Annenberg, the Republican billionaire and Richard Nixon's Ambassador to Great Britain for funding the Chicago educational program with which Ayers was involved? Could it possibly be because Annenberg's widow is a McCain supporter? Barack Obama, after all, only became chairman of the board that oversaw the distribution of Annenberg Chicago Challenge after the Republican Annenberg had legitimized the Ayers-connected projected to the tune of more than $49 million.

I hope that John McCain and Sarah Palin will see the light, have an epiphany as it were, and spend the remaining weeks of the presidential campaign discussing the tanking economy. My friend Gary Rosenblatt, the publisher and editor of New York's Jewish Week, is right when he decries what he calls the prevailing "attack politics mentality." But the Republicans have always relied on Democrats remaining on the high road in the face of gutter tactics. If the GOP swift boaters continue to disparage Barack Obama's character, then McCain's past relationships with supporters of paramilitary death squads and Palin's secessionist proclivities become fair game.

Menachem Rosensaft is a lawyer in New York City.

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