Before Karl Rove, Maureen Dowd reminds us, it was Lee Atwater who masterminded the Republican smear campaign, and his demolition of Michael Dukakis was his greatest, dirtiest success. Atwater painted the 1988 candidate as a weak Harvard-educated elitist with a weird last name, a man who supported "the Scary Black Man" and was not on "the American side." Watching John McCain's ugly campaign, the New York Times columnist asks simply, "Sound familiar?"
McCain's campaign has been disarmingly blunt about its need to take voters' focus off the economy if their man is to have any chance of winning. But while Dowd expected Atwater-like tactics from some Republicans—Sarah Palin is an especially eager "Mean Girl"—it's wrenching to watch the once respectable John McCain sink to such attacks. If he loses, "he will have contributed to his own downfall by failing to live up to his personal standard of honor."