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Guilty by Association

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This week Senator John McCain’s presidential campaign zeroed in on a new question: Who is the real Barack Obama? The narrative has pointed to Senator Obama’s relationship with William Ayers, an education professor who in the 1960s was a member of an anti-Vietnam War group that bombed government buildings. Obama supporters have dismissed the move as a scare tactic. Essence.com asked Danny Diaz, Director of Communications for the Republican National Committee, for his response to why he believes McCain’s new message is relevant to the election. Tell us your thoughts below.

ESSENCE.COM: This week, the McCain campaign has focused on questioning Senator Obama’s character. Why do you feel it’s important to go in this direction?
DANNY DIAZ:
Well, I think there’s such question in: Who is Barack Obama? He travels the country saying he’s going to cut taxes, yet he has voted for higher taxes 94 times. He says he’s going to decrease spending, but he proposed a trillion dollars in government spending. He says he stands for our troops, but he has voted against funding for the troops. [Editor’s Note: The independent Web site FactCheck.org has disputed the claims about 94 votes for higher taxes and voting against funding for the troops. The nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget has calculated that Obama’s proposed spending cuts roughly balance out his spending increases.] At the end of the day, his campaign rhetoric in no way reflects his record. I think they’re very serious questions as to who Barack Obama is, and what he would do should he be elected

ESSENCE.COM: What about Governor Sarah Palin linking Obama to Bill Ayers, rather than discussing the issues you just mentioned?
DIAZ:
It gets to a central question of judgment here. Who is Barack Obama? What kind of judgment has he demonstrated over the course of his life that would lead one to believe that he is ready to be president? He voluntarily decided to befriend a radical, an unrepentant terrorist, and I think that speaks to his judgment. Have most Americans befriended a terrorist? I submit to you that the answer to that question would be a resounding no. The Democratic nominee thought it was okay to serve on boards with someone who played a role in an organization that tried to undermine our government and hurt Americans. And I think it leads to questions about his judgment and how much we know about him.

ESSENCE.COM: Why do you describe them as friends?
DIAZ:
David Axelrod [Obama’s chief strategist] called them friends. I can get the quote for you. In a February 26 Politico.com story called “Ax on Ayers,” David Axelrod said, “Bill Ayers lived in his neighborhood. Their kids attend the same school. They’re certainly friendly. They know each other, as anyone whose kids who go to school together.”

ESSENCE.COM: This particular narrative has been criticized as depicting Obama as scary, and that it cultivates racial fear. How do you respond to this?
DIAZ:
It’s ridiculous. That’s how I respond. We’ve gotten to a point where we can’t question his record. We can’t question his votes. We can’t question his quotes. We can’t question his associations. Barack Obama is running on two memoirs. How could we just allow him to run for the presidency based on nothing? It’s a ridiculous notion. This is an individual that is probably the most inexperienced candidate in American history, with regard to someone seeking the presidency. We have every right to criticize his associations, his record.

ESSENCE.COM: This week, at speeches given by Senator McCain and Governor Palin, some audience members shouted hateful remarks—“terrorist” at a McCain speech in New Mexico, for example, and “Kill him” at a Palin rally in Florida. Do the candidates plan to say anything about this sort of reaction to their message?
DIAZ:
I speak for the Republican National Committee when I say those are unfortunate, totally inappropriate and unacceptable comments. I know the campaign has been absolutely vocal in speaking out and will continue to do so, and I am certain that they will continue to communicate that there’s no place for that kind of commentary.

ESSENCE.COM: When have they spoken out against that kind of commentary?
DIAZ:
In the past. And I’m sure if you ask them, they will continue to do so.

ESSENCE.COM: On Monday the Obama campaign raised McCain’s ties to Charles Keating and the Keating Five scandal. What are your thoughts on that association?
DIAZ:
John McCain has been an open book on this issue, and has responded to it with great clarity. It’s unfortunate that Obama refuses to speak with [the same] level of clarity about questionable individuals.

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