ROBOCALLS CONTINUE…. Following up on yesterday’s item, Greg Sargent reported on the fourth in a series of robocall smears launched by the McCain/Palin campaign, this time attacking Obama for opposing “a bill requiring doctors to care for babies born alive after surviving attempted abortions.” As Greg rightly emphasized, “These aren’t the work of any fringe groups. Every one of these is paid for by the McCain campaign and the RNC. It looks like there’s a huge wave of them blanketing the country.”

Because robocalls are illegal in Minnesota, Republicans there are reportedly hiring actual people to make live calls, reading the smears from a script. (Ben Smith noted, “The upside of these calls is that they’re cheap and direct. The downside is that they’re annoying and get bad press.”)

As for the big picture, Time’s Joe Klein is right to emphasize the irony of McCain trying to win by relying on the same kind of robocall smears that ended his first presidential bid.

Back in 2000, in South Carolina, the robocalls — and calls to local right-wing talk radio shows — were about John McCain’s “interracial child” and Cindy McCain’s drug addiction. They were a craven, disgusting tactic by the George W. Bush campaign. McCain was, rightly, outraged by them.

Now McCain’s campaign is making robocalls distorting Barack Obama’s non-existent relationship with Bill Ayers….

Certainly, such calls are not the sort of activity normally attributed to “a man whose courage has never been questioned,” as McCain described himself last week. Real men don’t hide behind robocalls. It is nowhere near honorable.

And that’s really the key takeaway here — making ugly attacks, below the radar, with automated calls is fundamentally gutless. After watching the campaign unfold over the last several months, many of us have come to expect dishonesty and dishonor from McCain, but this is the most meaningful example of cowardice we’ve seen this year.

Worse, McCain knows this. He hated this kind of campaigning when it was used against him eight years ago.

A win-at-all-costs attitude does strange things to a person’s judgment.

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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.