Facing the prospect of a catastrophic defeat in two weeks and, with it, possible relegation to minority party status in all branches of the national government, Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain, his running mate, the Republican National Committee and their affiliated partisans are flailing around in a disoriented fit of pique.
In recent weeks, attendees at McCain rallies have shouted, "Kill him!" in reference to Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama; dressed up a monkey doll with an Obama sticker; held up a sign calling for waterboarding Mr. Obama; told a black television cameraman, "Sit down, boy"; and kicked another reporter in the leg.
It's easy to dismiss these episodes as the isolated outrages of a lunatic few. That excuse cannot be used, however, to explain the disgusting robo-calls and television ads sponsored by the RNC, or incendiary statements made by Mr. McCain, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and McCain advisers.
Some automated telephone calls insinuate that Mr. Obama is a terrorist because of his association with former domestic terrorist William Ayers. (They fail to mention that Mr. Ayers committed his crimes when Mr. Obama was an 8-year-old living halfway around the world, and Republicans also "associated" with the two men on a civic board that included a McCain backer.) Meanwhile, a new ad by the National Republican Trust political action committee uses scary images of 9/11 hijackers as a way to link Mr. Obama's position on driver's licenses to the terrorist attacks seven years ago.
On the stump, the Arizona senator describes Mr. Obama's tax plan as a new form of "welfare," with the implication that such "socialism" will be a "redistribution" of tax revenues from white people to black people. (In those same speeches, Mr. McCain reiterates his pledge to use government revenues to renegotiate new, lower mortgages for those in default, a move that by his own definition would be redistributive socialism.)
As for Mrs. Palin, during a campaign appearance in North Carolina on Friday, she implied that only some parts of the United States are "pro-America." The very next day, McCain senior adviser Nancy Pfotenhauer, a self-described "proud resident" of Oakton, Va., said the parts of the commonwealth outside the Washington suburbs are the "real Virginia" and will thus be "responsive to Senator McCain's message."
Here's what real Americans are doing: writing checks to Mr. Obama.
In September alone, more than 632,000 new donors helped the Obama campaign raise a mind-boggling $150 million. Until this year, no American presidential campaign had ever attracted 1 million unique donors; Mr. Obama has 3.1 million donors.
And here is what real Americans are not doing: making angry outbursts at campaign rallies.
Moments after he endorsed Mr. Obama during his Sunday morning Meet the Press appearance, Colin L. Powell, the former Republican defense secretary and secretary of state, was asked to comment on the comportment of the McCain campaign. Mr. Powell mentioned the serious problems America faces, including two wars abroad and economic stresses at home. "Those are the problems the American people wanted to hear about - not about Mr. Ayers, not about who is a Muslim and who is not a Muslim," he said.
The race-based fear-mongering and incitement of culture-war definitions as to who is and isn't a "real American" are not just appalling, they're backfiring. The Republicans have reached the bottom of the barrel, and it's not a pleasant place.
Thomas F. Schaller teaches political science at UMBC. His column appears regularly in The Sun. His e-mail is email@example.com.