Worldview: At a time of crisis, GOP promotes fear | Philadelphia Inquirer | 10/12/2008 The U.S. needs a unifier. McCain and Palin are divisive. By Trudy Rubin Inquirer Opinion Columnist In 1933, at the depth of the Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt reassured a frightened country with these words: "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. . . ." As blind panic grips the markets, which are frozen by fear of another Great Depression, the country desperately needs reassuring leadership in Washington. Islamist terrorists are waiting in Afghanistan and Pakistan to take advantage of capitalism's troubles. A discredited President Bush is unable to rally the country. So voters are watching the candidates to see which looks more able to steer the country through this nightmare. Never has there been greater need for a campaign focused on critical issues. Instead, the McCain-Palin ticket is promoting the politics of fear. The country cannot afford this kind of folly. The world is sliding into recession, international economic institutions that the United States once led now appear helpless, and our intelligence agencies say Afghanistan is heading toward chaos, as is nuclear-armed Pakistan. We still have 150,000 troops tied down in Iraq. But what is the McCain campaign focused on? Accusing Barack Obama of links to terrorists because he knows someone named Bill Ayers. These irresponsible accusations further split our country at a time when it needs to pull together. As Sarah Palin might say, it's "unpatriotic" to sow such divisions when the country is under threat. Bill Ayers, in case you've been too focused on your sinking 401(k) to notice, is a 1960s Weather Underground radical who made news when Obama was 8 years old. Now he is a graying University of Illinois professor who worked on an education project that was financed with money from billionaire publisher and Richard Nixon pal Walter Annenberg (hardly a radical funder). Ayers had some contacts with Obama on the project's board. He also held a meeting in his home years ago for Obama, then a novice politician, to meet the neighbors. According to a New York Times investigation, the two men never were close. From this thin gruel Sarah Palin revs up angry crowds with assertions that Obama has been "palling around with terrorists." Her main goal seems to be to fuel anti-Obama passions in swing states. In Fort Myers, Fla., she declared: "This [Obama] is not a man who sees America the way you and I see America." Palin supporters then shouted abuse at reporters and racial epithets at an African American soundman. One told him, "Sit down, boy." Get the picture? Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.), one of McCain's close confidantes, told Washington Post columnist David Broder that the Republican campaign would "go down in history as stupid if they didn't unleash" Palin. And so they did. Right-wing bloggers and talk shows weave Palin's words into a bizarre pastiche of untruths aimed at damning Obama's character. Chain e-mails berate the "mainstream media" for "ignoring" Obama's terrorist ties. McCain is a man who once decried such negative campaigns. He was Swift Boated by Republican operatives in the South Carolina primary in 2000, with despicable stories about his having fathered a black child. That was then; the desire for office seems to have erased those memories. Apparently the Arizona senator, trailing in the polls, doesn't feel he can win on issues. The centrality of the economic crisis plays to Democratic strengths. So McCain has dropped his opposition to dirty campaigning. Indeed, he is now joining in attacking Obama for his "relationship" to Ayers. Obama has responded with ads about McCain's ties to the Keating Five savings and loan scandal in the 1980s. They are palid in comparison. If these were ordinary times, I would not be writing this column; we have gotten sadly used to negative campaigning. But in these abnormal times, such tactics are shameful. The electorate is angry and looking for answers; this is not the time to play to people's fears. The next president will face terrible challenges from the day he takes office. He will have to pull the country together, both red states and blue states. He will have to ask citizens to make huge sacrifices and be patient in frightening times. This will be a time of acute reckoning in U.S. foreign policy. The market collapse has undercut a key pillar of U.S. power - our economic clout. It will be far tougher to do what's needed in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. In my lifetime, we have never so needed a president who could unite the country and the government. A divided country will be unable to meet the awesome challenges that it will face. At one time, McCain might have been such a leader. "The situation today cries out for bipartisanship," he said in the second presidential debate. He also said, "I have a clear record of bipartisanship," referring to past cooperation across the aisle. But the poisonous nature of this campaign belies his bipartisan pretensions. After this election, it's hard to imagine a President McCain pulling the country together as FDR did. And given her tactics, a Palin vice presidency would worsen social splits this country can no longer afford. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- E-mail Trudy Rubin at email@example.com.