- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 21, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION

Barack Obama is talking landslide, but the polls are getting tighter. Not by much, but a little. Despite the big talk, the issue is still in doubt. The kindling is available to light a fire to burn down the messiah’s barn, if John McCain can find the match.

So why the jitters among certain followers of the tree-tall and thistle-thin messiah from Chicago’s Hyde Park, where everyone has an IQ of 500 (just ask any of them), a Prius in the garage and a radical in the parlor? Are the Obama campaign’s internal polls telling him something he doesn’t want to hear?

Some Democrats are complaining that the Republicans are trying to disqualify voters the Democrats, through their surrogates at ACORN, qualified illegally.

A Florida lawyer says he has assembled 5,000 lawyers to monitor voting stations, “assist” voters who may be turned away for lack of proper qualifications, and, if all else fails, paper the dockets with hundreds of lawsuits.

“On Election Day,” says Charles Lichtman, “I will be managing the largest law firm in the country.” (A scary thought, and there’s got to be a lawyer joke in here somewhere.)

It’s hard not to swallow hype when hype is all there is. Colin Powell’s endorsement of Mr. Obama was inevitable; he tipped his hand months ago, and the announcement was carefully choreographed in league with the compliant media. When he insists racial solidarity didn’t have anything to do with it, we must indulge the old general and take him at his word. Anything’s possible.

But we might also ask: “So what if it did?” Voters, including old soldiers, are entitled to choose a candidate for any reason they like. Maybe voters don’t like the cut of a candidate’s jib (or his pants). Maybe they don’t like the way he parts what’s left of his hair. Maybe a voter doesn’t like pale skin. Maybe, even, a voter doesn’t like his politics. Even wrongheaded voters are entitled. It’s in the Constitution.

The general got the correct talking points. He’s troubled. He’s troubled by Republican emphasis on negatives. He’s troubled by “personal attacks.” He’s troubled by the “focus” on Mr. Obama’s “alleged” connections to William Ayers, the unrepentant ‘60s terrorist now reprising the radicalism that made the ‘60s one of the nastiest decades in our history. Trouble, trouble, trouble. “I look at these kind of approaches to the campaign, and they trouble me,” Mr. Powell says. “Over the last seven weeks, the approach of the Republican Party has become narrower and narrower.”

You might think a soldier, accustomed to reading maps and assessing intelligence, would appreciate Mr. McCain’s point, that fraternizing with the enemy - and Mr. Ayers regards himself as the enemy of everything that makes America America - calls into question the Obama judgment, not his loyalty to God and country, but his taste in friends and associates, his sensibility and discernment.

In his haste to make the front page, Mr. Powell falsely ascribes to the McCain campaign the suggestion that Mr. Obama is a secret Muslim, or at least familiar with a secret Islamic handshake. The general has obviously been spending too much time at his summer home on Pluto, missing John McCain’s early, emphatic and consistent rebukes of those who have been spreading the story about Mr. Obama’s religious proclivities, which are curious enough without the flavor of Arabia.

Mr. Obama is a follower not of the Prophet Muhammad, but of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who prays for God to “damn America.” Then the general invokes the ultimate campaign cliché, the ritual put-down of Sarah Palin, who doesn’t have a lot of executive experience - though considerably more than Barack Obama, who has made a career, and a very good one, of pretty talk and resisting the challenge of making decisions. “I don’t believe [Gov. Palin] is ready to be president of the United States,” the general said. Joe Biden “is ready to be president on day one.”

Mr. Powell insists he won’t campaign for anyone, and Barack Obama is carefully not promising him anything but thanks - “if he wants to take a formal role [in my campaign] is something that he and I would have to discuss.” The general is best remembered for assuring everyone that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, the basis for going to war in Iraq. He blames his “mistake” on faulty intelligence. But four-star generals are supposed to know how to read intelligence, and recognize faulty intelligence. An endorsement of a front-runner, one endorsement among many, isn’t likely to impress many of his new friends.

Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Times.