This will, of course, be criticized as a distraction and as a departure from discussion of the "important issues that face the American people." Indeed, Joe Biden, citing a nutjob in one of Palin's crowds who shouted "kill him," archly suggests that this is not a place that we should go.
But is that right? Certainly claiming that Obama's associations with the extreme left (e.g., Wright and Ayers) tell us something about who he is may be inflammatory. This is no even if the idea is not that Obama is "just like" Wright and Ayers, but that he has a world view which permits Wright to be a trusted advisor and Ayers to be an acceptable political colleague - someone whose programs you fund and with whom you can sit on boards.
So is the principle that we ought to avoid inflammatory rhetoric? Is it that we must restrict ourselves to discussion of specific policies?
If it is, Obama is certainly off to places where he should not go. Asked about the financial crisis during last night's debate, he said what he always says:
And I believe this is a final verdict on the failed economic policies of the last eight years, strongly promoted by President Bush and supported by Sen. McCain, that essentially said that we should strip away regulations, consumer protections, let the market run wild, and prosperity would rain down on all of us.
This is, at best, meaningless and, at worse, utter nonsense. I have yet to hear anyone identify any deregulation during the Bush administration - whether or not supported by McCain - that played any significant role in the financial crisis.
I can think of government policies that may have played a role, but there are the Fed's easy money policy, the refusal (led mostly by Democrats)to enact tougher oversight of Freddie and Fannie (this is one bit of regulation that the Bush administration favored) and Freddie and Fannie's decision to make a market for junk - fueled, in part, by the political class' desire to expand homeownership. I can think of forces that were not caused by the governent, such as the influx of cash from overseas.
But I can't point to much in the way of deregulation. It is, of course, possible to imagine a set of regulations that might have prevented the problem. We just identify whatever went wrong and, with 20-20 hindsight, say that it ought to have been prohibited. But, as I have blogged before, it is hard to imagine anyone who would have supported such regulations before the fact.
So it is hardly a thoughtful or nuanced discussion of the issues.
But is it inflammatory?
Well, it's of a piece with Obama's Grapes of Wrath rhetoric. "They," he says, have made you "settle" for less. If it's inflammatory to criticize Obama for his dalliance with those on the far left - something that may tell us something about who he is, why is it not inflammatory to stir class envy and resentment?