This commentary first appeared on Huffington Post, October 13, 2008.
By Carl Bernstein
Does John McCain "pal around with terrorists?"
Certainly McCain's continuing "association" and relationship with the convicted Watergate burglar and domestic terrorist G. Gordon Liddy might suggest that is the case, if we are to apply the standards drawn by the McCain campaign.
In 1998, Liddy gave a fundraiser in his Scottsdale, Arizona home for McCain's senatorial re-election campaign -- the two posed for photographs together; and as recently as May, 2007, as a presidential candidate, McCain was a guest on Liddy's syndicated radio show. Inexplicably, McCain heaped praise on his host's values. During the segment, McCain said he was "proud" of Liddy, and praised Liddy's "adherence to the principles and philosophies that keep our nation great." From the program:
LIDDY: Your experience in the Hanoi Hilton is remarkable. I mean, I put in five years in a prison [for masterminding the Watergate burglary, and associated crimes], but it was here in the United States, and they didn't torture - the only torture that I had was being forced to listen to rap music from time to time.
McCAIN: Well, you know, I'm proud of you. I'm proud of your family. I'm proud to know your son, Tom, who's a great and wonderful guy. And it's always a pleasure for me to come on your program, Gordon. And congratulations on your continued success and adherence to the principles and philosophies that keep our nation great.
Which of Liddy's "principles and philosophies" was McCain referring to? Liddy's advocacy of break-ins? Firebombings? Assassinations? Kidnappings? Taking target practice with figures nicknamed Bill and Hillary?
During the same period that Bill Ayers was a member of the Weather Underground, Gordon Liddy was making plans to firebomb a Washington think tank, assassinate a prominent journalist, undertake the Watergate burglary, break into the office of Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist, and kidnap anti-war protesters at the 1972 Republican convention.
Re: Liddy's "continued success and adherence to the principles and philosophies that keep our nation great:" Did McCain mean to include Liddy's instructions to listeners of his radio show in 1994 (around the time Ayres and Obama were on a board together discussing education programs and other plots) on how to shoot Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms agents (aim for the head)?
If ATF agents attempt to curtail a citizen's gun ownership, Liddy counseled, "Well, if the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms comes to disarm you and they are bearing arms, resist them with arms. Go for a head shot; they're going to be wearing bulletproof vests."
More recently, Liddy explained making the Clintons objects of shooting practice: "I did relate that on the 4th of July of last year, when I and my family and some friends were out firing away at a properly-constructed rifle range and we ran out of targets, and so we - I drew some stick figure targets and I thought we ought to give them names. So I named them Bill and Hillary, thought it might improve my aim. It didn't. My aim is good anyway. Now, having said that, I accept no responsibility for somebody shooting up the White House."
The Liddy-McCain symbiosis has been mentioned in a number of posts on the Internet - mostly by bloggers and sites identified with The Left. But the documentation of their interaction (Liddy has also contributed financially to McCain's presidential campaign) is not a matter of Left or Right: It is astonishing that, given the prominence of the Ayers matter accorded by virtually every "mainstream" news outlet in America, there has been virtually nothing on the subject in the major newspapers and broadcast networks. This is a real journalistic failure and abrogation of responsibility.
Is Liddy any less a domestic terrorist than Bill Ayers? It is a zero-sum argument, for sure. I do not believe, incidentally, that John McCain shares the most abhorrent of Liddy's values, as expressed in Liddy's actions during the same period that Ayers was a Weatherman - and which Liddy continues to express, unapologetically, to this day.
But McCain has now become so unmoored from the principles he once espoused, so shameless in his courtship not only of the Republican "base" but in his eagerness to unleash a poisonous arsenal of character assassination and guilt-by-association - and plain-and-simple incitement of people's fears and prejudices - that, now, inevitably his and Sara Palin's rallies and campaign events have taken on the aura of mobs at times.
"Kill him," a man in the crowd responded last week, when Palin declared -yet again - "He's palling around with terrorists who would target their own country." In Virginia, the State Republican chairman announced a set of talking points to campaign volunteers - stressing the incendiary connection, reported Time magazine, between Barack Obama and Osama bin Laden: "Both have friends that bombed the Pentagon. That is scary," the Republican chairman said.
The most recent McCain ad on the subject shouts, "Obama worked with terrorist William Ayers when it was convenient" - perhaps suggesting, indeed, even that the candidate was there planting bombs.
The intended message of the McCain campaign is, of course, that Obama is less than patriotic - enunciated even by the candidate's wife, Cindy: "The day that Senator Obama decided to cast a vote to not fund my son when he was serving sent a cold chill through my body," she recently told a crowd of several thousand, which also heard her husband and Palin sound similar notes. (The chairman of the Lehigh, Pa., County Republican Party, William Platt, "implored the crowd to work hard to elect McCain or wake up November 5 to see 'Barack Obama, Barack Hussein Obama,' as the president," reported The Washington Post.)
Like Cindy McCain, the campaign's "Ad Facts" also trumpet - misleadingly - the only troop-funding bill that Obama voted against, in 2007 - without noting that Obama first voted for the bill, in a version that included a timetable for withdrawal. Nor did Cindy McCain mention that her husband, too, voted against the troop-funding bill - in the version that contained withdrawal language.
Thus has John McCain embarked on a scorched-earth death struggle for the presidency - cultural warfare that knows no bounds, exceeding perhaps even the mendacity and ferocity of the campaign waged against him by George Bush in 2000, and of which McCain once said there was "a special place in hell" for the Bush operatives who smeared him. (McCain also said of the Swift-boat attacks against John Kerry by Republicans in 2004: "I deplore this kind of politics. I think the ad is dishonest and dishonorable.")
The lethal weapon of the McCain campaign's dreams is the explosive allegation that, in Palin's words - Obama "pals around with terrorists." McCain, wisely, did not raise the matter himself in the last presidential debate. Why?
At the time, much of the commentariat attributed the omission to McCain's purported concerns that Obama would respond by reciting the history of McCain's "association" with the S&L swindler Charles Keating, for which McCain was cited by the Senate Ethics Committee early in his career, for exercising "poor judgment" for intervening improperly with federal regulators on behalf of Keating, as part of the infamous Keating Five scandal.
But the more likely explanation of why McCain avoided a debate confrontation about "palling around with terrorists" is McCain's very real - and recent - symbiotic association and praise for another (not Ayers) domestic terrorist emblematic of the Vietnam era: G. Gordon Liddy.