One week ago in this space ("The Republic in Danger") I wrote: "With the core of the nation's financial structure in shambles, at stake these next four weeks is the very governmental itself. Never have these United States needed strong leadership more."
The column was a plea – recognizing the character assassinations that loaded the Democratic primary – for the parties' nominees to hold off what are called ad hominem attacks, personal assaults. Criticizing policy and political positions are still fair game.
My fear, as expressed last Tuesday, was that electing weakened leaders could very well provoke a crisis of confidence that might topple the entire government. Certainly the abysmal public support enjoyed by the incumbent contributes to that fear. We're reached a point when the Oval Office occupant's actions receive endorsement from about 20 percent of those surveyed.
As pointed out before, the "best man (or woman)" is rarely available for election; we chose the better candidate on the slate, accepting the electorate's choice is fallible and necessarily with faults. In campaigns' closing phases, the seemingly losing side tends to emphasize flaws, frequently emphasized by mud, tons of mud.
Several weeks ago Republican John McCain's gurus boldly announced his thrust would become harder and immediately after GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin went on the attack, claiming Democratic contender Barack Obama started his career in the home of a "domestic terrorist." And emphasizing his father's Muslim religion, the man himself was referred to by his full name: Barack Hussein Obama.
The obvious intent was to link the senator to Islamic terrorists. The result at some Republican rallies was to evoke cries that the U.S.-born and Methodist-raised Mr. Obama should be killed. When Senator McCain intervened with praise of his competitor, he was shouted down. His protest was too late and possibly too faint.
"Rum, Romanism and Rebellion" comes to mind; that was the slogan adopted by GOP candidate James G. Blaine's adherents in American political history's most blatant effort to smear. Grover Cleveland was accused of being a drunk, in sympathy with the 19th century's biggest boogie, the pope, and allied with former confederates. Mr. Cleveland was elected and Mr. Blaine sentenced to the obscurity of presidential wannabes.
At any rate as colleague Rick Weldon stated in Monday's TheTentacle.com: "The defense of partisanship, by either one of the two major political parties, amounts to nothing more than the defense of an outmoded system of governance that has consistently failed to meet the expectations of voters."
Succinctly, Rick encapsulated the tenor of these perilous times that cause others to fear the republic is threatened. He emphasized partisanship as the chief reason that parties twist the truth out of shape. I don't disagree.
New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd raised the question in Sunday's paper, referring to the Rome of Julius Caesar – the example in my Tuesday column. As these United States now, the empire was in decline; its prestige splintered as we've witnessed in recent Washington. The fundamental institutions staggering: look all around.
This is simply not a time for politics as usual. John McCain understands; his vice presidential nominee seemingly does not. (Incidentally, evidence suggests Alaska Republicans pushed the negative report on Governor Palin up; they did not want it to land, as scheduled, very close to voting day.)
This is not a situation where slime and character assassination can be washed away in a bowl of perfumed water. This is much too serious.