Trailing badly in the polls, and with less than a month to turn around his failing campaign, John McCain has decided to go negative as strongly as he can, hoping he can somehow frighten voters enough to beat Barack Obama.

It’s not going to work this time, though.

For more than 35 years, Republican candidates for president have used cynical, mean and often illegal tactics in order to win the presidency at any cost. Richard Nixon’s lackeys hired burglars in 1972 to steal campaign documents from the Democrats at the Watergate Hotel in Washington. In 1980, in an act of treason surprisingly ignored by history, Ronald Reagan’s lieutenants met secretly with Iranians and struck a deal to keep American hostages in captivity past the election. In 2000, voter suppression campaigns, combined with good old-fashioned vote stealing, still couldn’t deliver the election to George W. Bush, so the Supreme Court had to intervene and keep legally cast votes in Florida from being counted. Just four years ago, a disgraceful smear campaign against John Kerry’s war record wasn’t enough, so the votes in Ohio had to be manipulated in order to give Bush a second term.

You have to go back to 1956, when Dwight Eisenhower was re-elected, to find a presidential campaign in which the Republican Party didn’t have to resort to unethical and illegal activities in order to win.

The only times Republicans have lost since 1956 — in 1976, 1992 and 1996 — was when their candidates were of sufficient moral character to not cheat to win. (Democrats won in 1960 by using the Bush 2000 strategy of cheating, with Richard Nixon cast in the role of Al Gore.)

And in 1992, when Poppy Bush lost in a three-way race, there simply wasn’t enough opportunity to do so.

So it’s not surprising that McCain is attacking Obama with the kitchen sink — in this case, over Obama’s ties to the 1960s radical William Ayers, who plotted domestic terrorist attacks when Obama was just a child. Running mate Sarah Palin, the object of masturbatory glee for the Rush Limbaugh crowd, said over the weekend that Obama is unqualified to be president because of his loose ties to Ayers. She proceeded to use code words to tell whites that a vote for Obama is a betrayal of the white race.

“This is not a man who sees America as you and I see America,” she told a nearly all-white crowd in California.

For once, the hockey mom is right. McCain and Palin see America as their playground and its hardworking residents as human capital that exists to be exploited for the benefit of the richest 1 percent of the population. Black citizens are qualified, to them, to serve them drinks at their country club. Hispanics exist to them in order to do manual labor for sub-minimum wages. And poor whites are here to flip their burgers and serve as combatants on the Jerry Springer show.

Although it’s been 50 years since a Republican has been bold enough to use the N word in public, look for Palin to find a way to subtly work in a synonym for it during the next few weeks.

Even then, it won’t work, because the negative connotations of the N word, that is to say, what they mean when they use it, could be applied to almost all of us.

Put another way, the real trouble for McCain and Palin is that a campaign based on rewarding the rich and enslaving the poor only works when there are enough rich people left to make a difference. Eight years of George W. Bush have left the country bankrupt, financially and morally. Former CEOs are now included in the subset of the population the Republicans want to punish.

Meanwhile, there’s a wave of new voters out there, blacks and whites, Hispanics and Asians, gays and straights, who don’t appreciate the prospect of four more years of second-class citizenship. Energized by Obama’s promise of a bright new day, they intend on voting in record numbers this year.

And, except for a dedicated few, the poor whites who comprise the base of the conservative movement are beginning to realize that despite what Rush and Bush told them, they’re never going to be able to wear the same clothes as the man on the Monopoly board.

McCain also has the disadvantage of having been wrong on nearly every issue over the past three decades. Such a hindrance didn’t stop the Bushes, but it looks like McCain will have to take the fall for them.

But don’t get complacent. There’s still a few weeks left for them to steal this election back, which is why it’s important to vote this year. Early voting started this week in Indiana. Get your vote in now in order to make it harder for them to overturn it later.

Help is on the way, but only if we help ourselves and honor the promise we made to ourselves after 2000 and 2004: We won’t allow ourselves to be bamboozled again.

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