Imagine you're an undecided voter, turning on the news tonight. You hear about the enormous plunge Wall Street took today. You hear about the U.S. government taking ownership stakes in American banks. You hear about a global economic crisis. You hear about the Great Depression.
Then the subject turns to the Presidential race - and if the news channel behaves the way the McCain campaign clearly hopes it will, the first thing you'll see is a short feature on how John McCain has cut a new anti-Obama ad featuring Ayers, Ayers and more Ayers. It's possible that this inspires you to think: Man, that terrorist-sympathizing Obama can't be trusted in an economic crisis. In that case, Steve Schmidt, Andy McCarthy and sundry others are political masterminds, and I am a plain fool.
But I don't think I'm a fool. I think McCain looks, to our hypothetical undecided, utterly disconnected from what's happening in the world, and the details of the Ayers connection, however troubling they might be in another context, blur away into a broader impression of a flailing, desperate, out-of-touch candidate. At this point, the McCain camp seems to be taking its cues more from the liberal caricature of past conservative campaigns - that they've all been fundamentally unserious exercises in culture-war button-pushing - than from the campaigns themselves. It's as though they're being paid under the table by Thomas Frank to goose his book sales and vindicate his thesis.