Here's your election

Which do you feel more strongly: that Barack Obama scares you or that the Republicans disgust you with the unholy mess they've made?

Actually, there's one other question: Does the idea of Obama in the Oval Office scare you less, as much or more than the idea of Sarah Palin traipsing around one beat of a 72-year-old heart from that office?

There's your election.

The coming days likely will be unpleasant. That's because these decisive questions are more about personal matters than policy ones.

There's not much of a contest, actually, on policy, or at least the political implications thereof.

Whether rightly or wrongly, a clear majority of Americans blames the current administration and Republicans more than it blames Democrats for the almost incomprehensible financial peril besetting our once-rich country.

John McCain and his people know all of that. It's the simple politics of a prevailing public mood.

So absent the personal, McCain loses. Thus his people -- with Palin as hatchet-woman -- have set out to do to Obama what Lee Atwater and the Bushes did to Michael Dukakis, with the aiding and abetting of Dukakis himself, in 1988.

In that race voters decided Dukakis didn't have "mainstream" values, meaning theirs, about patriotic symbols such as the Pledge of Allegiance and whether murderers ought to get prison furloughs.

Obama has his long-time former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, who, from time to time, went over-the-top in his racially angry and incendiary preaching. Then there's the guy from Obama's neighborhood, William Ayers, who, in the '60s, was a nutty student hippie radical who helped found underground groups responsible for bombing public facilities in protest of American policy, primarily, if not exclusively, in Vietnam.

Ayers is now a college professor and textbook author. His views are still leftist, though his activities have become law-abiding and conventional. Obama has been on a charity board with Ayers. The two men were associated in community organizing and anti-poverty efforts. Ayers' home was the site of a fundraiser for Obama's first run for the Illinois Senate in the late 1990s.

Hatchet-woman Palin bellows from the stump that all of that means Obama has known associations with an anti-American terrorist.

Some accuse her of speaking in an alarming code that sends religious, cultural and race-tinged messages. Her adoring audiences have become ugly at times, turning on the media and yelling "treason" when she lays into Obama. A conservative columnist wrote of her concern the other day when someone at a Palin rally yelled "sit down, boy" to an African-American television cameraman.

Indeed, it does seem that either you get Palin's appeal or you don't. Something subliminal or subtly understood seems to underlie it.

Meantime, Obama says Ayers is just a guy he knows very casually and that he deplores Ayers' earlier criminal activities and that, anyway, he was 8 years old when Ayers was doing that crazy stuff.

Does anyone really believe that any of that means Obama hates America and is a terrorist sympathizer and would, if elected, sell out our mainstream values as part of a sinister Manchurian Candidate's plot to destroy this country as we know it?

If you truly think that, then you owe it to yourself and your country to vote for McCain.

Meantime the country seems to be doing a petty good job of destroying itself on its own after eight years of a kind of governing McCain would largely continue.

So there's your dynamic: Obama as a scary guy versus the Republicans as spectacularly failed, with the Palin secret handshake thrown in for the good measure of our still-simmering culture war.


John Brummett, an award-winning columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock, is author of "High Wire," a book about Bill Clinton's first year as president. His e-mail address is jbrummett@