The campaign heats up

We must be getting close to an election. The rhetoric is heating up. And some of it is getting ugly.

I’ve always had a fear about this election, that if Barack Obama looked like he was starting to pull ahead in the polls, the attacks on him would be ratcheted up.

Turns out those fears were pretty much on the money.

The mood at several GOP rallies last week got downright ugly. The attacks on Obama again swerved over the line into personal questions. Still one more speaker took the opportunity to stress that his middle name is Hussein.

One woman at a town hall meeting cautioned that the Democrat is an Arab. To his credit, John McCain immediately corrected her.

In fact, McCain was trying to put out this brush fire, to let his backers know that Obama is a good man and even that they would have nothing to fear should he be elected president.

Unfortunately, once the tenor of a campaign is set, it’s a little hard to put that genie back in the bottle.

The McCain camp has been pushing an old association linking Obama with William Ayers, a former member of the Weather Underground that was responsible for a series of bombings in the ’70s. They served on the board of an educational foundation in Chicago but do not seem to have any close ties.

In return, the Democrats rolled out an ad stressing McCain’s ties to the Keating 5, one of the key components in the savings and loan scandal of the ’80s.

And Democrats have not been without their vitriol, too often responding to the GOP charges in kind. Regardless of whether or not you believe she should have been there, Sarah Palin was booed while dropping the puck at the Flyers’ season opener Saturday night.

Protesters have been decidedly more nasty in their tactics at several GOP events in the past week.

Then this weekend Democratic Congressman John Lewis, of Georgia, an associate of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., castigated the McCain campaign for “sowing the seeds of hatred and division.”

But he didn’t stop there. He raised the ugly specter of George Wallace, the strident Alabama governor, who he said “created the climate and the conditions that encouraged vicious attacks against innocent Americans who were simply trying to exercise their constitutional rights.”

An outraged McCain camp demanded an apology.

Lewis later issued another statement saying it was not his intention or desire to directly compare McCain or Palin to Wallace. Again, the genie was already out of the bottle.

On Sunday, Democratic vice presidential hopeful Joe Biden accused the McCain campaign of launching “unbecoming personal attacks” against Obama.

The nation stands on the edge of the abyss, with our economy by just about any standard facing its greatest crisis since the days of the Depression.

But why talk about that, and other key issues, when you can inflame the passions of your base – and hopefully attract moderate and undecided voters – by tossing a few red-meat sizzlers out there.

The election is three weeks from tomorrow. My guess? Brace yourself. It’s likely to get uglier.

Which prompts another question? Is this any way to elect a president.

I don’t have a dog in this fight. I think both McCain and Obama are good, decent men and viable candidates. Either way, I think we are light years better off than what we have endured the past eight years.

I just wish we could go about this process without the ugly, petty personal stuff that seems to overtake the serious issues facing the nation.