It is always the case that in democratic States at election time a candidate for office will spend quite a bit of time in denigrating his opponents’ fitness for office – often as much time as he spends in saying why, for positive reasons, he himself should be chosen. That’s how it is – and as the great Harry Truman said “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen”. But as we approach judgment day in Election 2008 it is nevertheless dispiriting that the Republican campaign seems now to be indulging only in running down their opponents. And in a pretty grubby way as well.

The deeply personal attacks on Senator Obama by McCain, Palin and the rest are succeeding in stirring up a violent reaction from their supporters. That McCain has tried to cool the abuse hurled at Obama by his most loyal supporters is, of course, too little and too late. McCain has authorised the move to get personal – and there’s more to come before 4th November, of that you can be sure.

The irony of all this is that McCain has in the past set himself up as a promoter of democratic values and processes. Remember that he has been the Chairman of the “International Republican Institute” (IRI) a body which was established to promote democracy around the world. All very fine. But I wonder if he would go to one of the countries which he wants to embrace democracy and tell them “And if your party gets in trouble you can always abuse your opponent. You can infer attitudes and opinions in him that you know deep down are unfair or untrue but which night help you win the election. You can encourage your supporters to foul-mouth and abuse your opponent with cries that have no foundation in fact and which are simply an appeal to baser instincts and prejudices”.

I doubt that Mr McCain really believes, in his heart, that the brutal personal attack route has merit or that he would really argue that its fair game in a democracy – at least I hope not. But I can imagine that some who look at what’s going on in the Republican campaign from afar, maybe from the countries where the IRI has been pedalling its wares, would say that it doesn’t make democracy look that great if you need to lie and abuse your way through a campaign to have a chance of winning. 

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