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Move over, Willie Horton

According to KDKA News Director John Verrilli, it was Pennsylvania McCain spokesman Peter Feldman, in the absence of any confirmed facts, who told the media that the mugger saw a McCain bumper sticker on Ashley Todd\'s car, and that the B stood for Barack.
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October 27, 2008

I just hope Peter Feldman isn’t Jewish.

In my parents’ New Jersey home, when the perpetrator of some awful act in the news was not yet known, I could always count on them to say, “I hope he isn’t Jewish.”

This worked out well in the case of Lee Harvey Oswald, but for Jack Ruby, not so much. Sighs of relief greeted the announcement that the “Mad Bomber” terrorizing New York was George Metesky, but not when the “Son of Sam” killer was identified as David Berkowitz.

Peter Feldman is the McCain-Palin campaign’s communications director in Pennsylvania.

I don’t know Peter Feldman, and the only mayhem he’s suspected of is metaphorical, and the drip, drip, drip of evidence against him is coming out in the court of public opinion, not in a court of law. I realize that politics ain’t beanbag, and I’m familiar with the riptides and undertows that can seize anyone working in a presidential campaign, especially an apparently losing one, in its final days. Still, for the sake of the reputation of Jewish ethics, and even for the sake of the reputation of Republicans, I sure hope he didn’t do last week what it kinda sorta looks like he did.

By now everyone knows that Ashley Todd, the 20-year-old McCain volunteer from College Park, Texas who told Pittsburgh police that a 6-foot-4 black man robbed her at an ATM machine and carved a backwards B on her face, has (in the words of a Pennsylvania prosecutor) “not insignificant mental health issues.” She made it all up.

But what everyone may not know is that before the contents of her allegation were fully known, let alone verified, it appears to be Peter Feldman – not the police – who told local reporters that her (fictional) big black assailant said to her, “You’re with the McCain campaign? I’m going to teach you a lesson.”

Move over, Willie Horton.

“>if you believe that Peter Feldman was just repeating what he had heard from the police, it is nevertheless arguable, as Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson said, that Mr. Feldman’s actions showed “not just a willingness to believe it, but an eagerness to incite a …racial backlash against the Obama campaign.”

On Saturday night, the same Peter Feldman “>TalkingPointsMemo.com, the Web site that’s been all over these stories, said that Peter Feldman’s statement — McCain “rejects politics that degrades our civics” — was made “without any apparent hint of irony.”

I guess I can believe that. But I just can’t believe that Peter Feldman believes what he says.

It is conceivable, I suppose, that John McCain actually believes, “>”is no longer an agent of intolerance”; or that he told Bush to “>money from “special interests“; or that he’ll “>sex education“; or that Sarah Palin is the country’s foremost “>exonerated her of “unlawful or unethical” activity; or that construction of a $40 billion Alaskan “>pal around “>crypto-communism (“If you thought your income, your property, your inventory, your investments were, were yours, they would really collectively belong to everybody” under an Obama administration).

But in the end, I just can’t make myself believe that the Republican ticket has drunk its own Kool-Aid, just as I can’t bring myself to imagine that Peter Feldman doesn’t realize that he’s licking the razor.

In a campaign, especially toward the end of a campaign, especially when you’re staring at a possible rout, you may not be able to convince yourself that what you’re saying is actually true, but it’s not so hard to believe that your demagoguery is justified by a higher purpose.

It’s hard to lose. I know. But it’s even harder when there’s nothing left to lose for.

Marty Kaplan, who worked on three losing presidential campaigns in the 1980s, holds the Norman Lear Chair in Entertainment, Media and Society at the USC Annenberg School for Communication. His column appears here weekly. Reach him at martyk@jewishjournal.com.

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