The company that he keeps

THE COMPANY THAT HE KEEPS…. Here’s John McCain’s latest line of attack: “Americans need to ask themselves if they’ve ever befriended an unrepentant terrorist, or had a convicted felon help them buy their house.” Substantively, this is ridiculous, of course, but everyone, everywhere, knew this was coming.

We can, however, take this a step further.

Americans need to ask themselves if they’ve ever befriended a convicted felon who advised his supporters on how best to shoot federal officials in the head. John McCain has.

Americans need to ask themselves if they’ve ever used the money of a convicted criminal to help them buy their house. John McCain has.

Americans need to ask themselves if they’ve ever befriended a radical televangelist who has lashed out at the Roman Catholic Church, calling it, among other things, “the great whore” and “a false cult system.” John McCain has.

Americans need to ask themselves if they’ve ever sought economic advice from a far-right former lawmaker who “has diminished American solvency and power beyond the wildest dreams of anti-American terrorists.” John McCain has.

Americans need to ask themselves if they’ve ever befriended a radical televangelist who blamed the attacks of Sept. 11 on Americans. John McCain has.

My point isn’t that the presidential campaign should be based on who the candidates have met; my point is that we could probably play this foolish game all day long. And on balance, McCain’s ties to a pretty motley crew are far more direct and meaningful than Obama’s. So maybe we can just skip it and debate substance for the next month?

Rezko? Keating. Ayers? Liddy. Wright? Hagee. Hell, we’ve barely started to talk about some of the high-priced lobbyists on McCain’s campaign staff and their controversial client lists. This is what McCain and his cronies want to spend the last 29 days of the campaign debating, because to them, anything beats talking about the economy. How very sad.

The Republican strategy of making the rest of the campaign about Bill Ayers and Tony Rezko is very tiresome, painfully unnecessary, and as Ezra explained last night, probably self-defeating.

[McCain’s latest] assault probably will fail, and it probably will be defeated. Because the Obama campaign has figured out something pretty basic about it: Though the attacks work to touch something very deep and very real and a little bit scary in the American psyche, they’re fundamentally pretty stupid. Stupider, I’d guess, than the voters, who may find a campaign based on reference to aging radicals and Columbia professors and crimes from the 1960s a bit esoteric amidst a financial crisis.

My hunch is John McCain is going to come to regret this campaign very much indeed.

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Steve Benen

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.