YES, PALIN CAN GET WORSE…. Now, I know what you’re thinking, because I’ve been thinking it, too: there’s just no way Sarah Palin can get any more ridiculous.

We were wrong.

Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin on Saturday accused Democrat Barack Obama of “palling around with terrorists” because of his association with a former 1960s radical, stepping up the campaign’s effort to portray Obama as unacceptable to American voters.

Palin’s reference was to Bill Ayers, one of the founders of the group the Weather Underground…. The Republican campaign, falling behind Obama in polls, plans to make attacks on Obama’s character a centerpiece of presidential candidate John McCain’s message with a month remaining before Election Day.

Palin told a group of donors at a private airport, “Our opponent … is someone who sees America, it seems, as being so imperfect, imperfect enough, that he’s palling around with terrorists who would target their own country.” She also said, “This is not a man who sees America as you see America and as I see America.”

A few things. First, we already learned, just today, that Obama is not tied to William Ayers in any meaningful way. I know Palin struggles to keep up with current events, but her attacks are obviously and demonstrably wrong.

Second, the McCain campaign is surprisingly transparent in its desperation. Faced with daunting challenges here and abroad, McCain, Palin, and their team of Bushies have decided they’d lose if voters have issues and substance on their minds. They’re left with lies, personal attacks, and bogus smears. It’s surprisingly pathetic.

Third, does Palin really want to play the guilt-by-association game? Isn’t she married to someone who joined a fringe political party that wants to secede from the United States? Didn’t she attend a church where a literal witchdoctor laid hands on her?

The truth is, running for national office in a time of war and crisis is difficult. It takes real courage, strength, and character to challenge voters to weigh the seriousness of the moment, and make a decision about our collective fate based on substance.

And therein lies the point about the McCain/Palin campaign: we’re dealing with a team that lacks courage, strength, and character. Running away from the issues, deceiving voters, cynically distracting the public are all signs of political cowardice.

The McCain campaign hit the bottom of the barrel a while ago, but they figured out a way to dig a hole in the barrel, fall through, and scrounge around underneath it.

McCain was given a choice: lose his honor or lose the election. He’s clearly made his decision, but if there’s any justice, he’s about to lose both.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.