THEY KNOW NO LIMITS, THEY HAVE NO SHAME…. The New York Times had an editorial earlier this week, noting that the McCain/Palin campaign is among the most “appalling” in recent memory. The Times added, “They have gone far beyond the usual fare of quotes taken out of context and distortions of an opponent’s record — into the dark territory of race-baiting and xenophobia.”

The drive by the Republican campaign to prove the Times right continues unabated.

Former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, a McCain campaign co-chairman, edged up to an explicitly racial attack on Barack Obama on Thursday, describing the Illinois Senator as a “guy of the street” before raising his youthful drug use.

Appearing on Dennis Miller’s radio show, Keating charged that the Democratic nominee was covering up his “very extreme” record, and urged Obama to be more honest with Americans. “He ought to admit,” Keating said, “‘You know, I’ve got to be honest with you. I was a guy of the street. I was way to the left. I used cocaine. I voted liberally, but I’m back at the center.’”

Keating began to address Obama’s former pastor Jeremiah Wright — a topic that John McCain himself has said should be off-limits — but Miller interrupted him to return to the discussion of cocaine.

Now, obviously, Keating’s remarks are pretty disgusting, even by the ridiculously low standards of the McCain campaign. But let’s also not forget the response from a McCain campaign official, who balked when asked if McCain would repudiate Keating’s attacks.

“We didn’t ask him to do it,” the aide said. “He didn’t clear it with us, but obviously he’s read Senator Obama’s books.”

In other words, McCain is not only comfortable with Keating’s sleaze, he thinks the attacks have merit.

Yesterday, Joe Klein referred to the McCain campaign as “a national disgrace,” which is clearly an accurate assessment. But as Digby noted, it’s also part of a larger strategy: “[W]hat we are really seeing is the beginning of a right wing story line about the next president of the United States — he is a drug user, a foreigner, a terrorist and a traitor. And the importance of that is that it gives permission to the right wing machine to do anything and everything to destroy him.”

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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.