The all-out effort from John McCain's presidential campaign to scare voters into backing the Republican candidate continued apace on Tuesday as McCain surrogate Joe the Plumber agreed that a Barack Obama presidency would mean the "death of Israel" and end democracy in America.
The Ohio plumber, who has no license and is actually named Samuel Wurzelbacher, spoke at a McCain campaign event in Columbus Monday. A McCain supporter asked if "a vote for Obama is a vote for the death of Israel." JTP hardly batted an eye.
"I'll go ahead and agree with you on that," Wurzelbacher said.
The push-back against Wurzelbacher's comments began, somewhat unexpectedly, at Fox News.
The network noted that the McCain campaign seemed hesitant to distance itself from Wurzelbacher. Correspondent Carl Cameron said that the McCain campaign was going to put out an ad today criticizing Obama policies on Israel.
"Just a coincidence?" he asked. "We report you decide."
Later Tuesday afternoon, Shepard Smith pressed Wurzelbacher on his comments, reminding the woefully misinformed McCain backer that Obama has consistently voiced support for Israel. Pressed several times to explain how he could agree with the conclusion that Obama would lead to the death of the Jewish state, Wurzelbacher was unable to come up with any good reasons aside from Obama's position in favor of negotiating with rogue regimes such as Iran.
"You don't want my opinion on foreign policy," Wurzelbacher said. "I know just enough to kind of be dangerous."
Smith seemed to agree with that assessment, implying that the only source for Wurzelbacher and the supporter's concern was "hateful things spread on the Internet." The host clearly worried that Wurzelbacher's endorsement of such a view might inspire violence against the candidate.
Why, Smith asked, would Wurzelbacher believe Obama was lying when he spoke of the importance of Israel's relationship with the United States.
Wurzelbacher was flummoxed. All he could offer was an appeal for people to "go out and find their own reasons ... go out and get informed."
If only the "plumber" had bothered to take his own advice before jumping onto the national stage. Smith, for his part, made sure to set his audience straight on the facts.
"I just want to make this 100 percent perfectly clear, Barack Obama has said repeatedly and demonstrated repeatedly that Israel will always be a friend of the United States, no matter what happens once he becomes President of the United States, his words," Smith said after the interview ended. "The rest of it, man, it just gets frightening sometimes."
This video is from Fox's Studio B, broadcast October 28, 2008.
In Ohio, Wurzelbacher went on to reiterate McCain's attempts to paint Obama as a socialist, The Associated Press reports.
"I'm honestly scared for America," Wurzelbacher said.McCain's campaign has used the "spread the wealth" line to attack Obama ever since the Democratic candidate used it to inartfully describe his tax proposals.
He later said Obama would end the democracy that the U.S. military had defended during wars.
"I love America. I hope it remains a democracy, not a socialist society. ... If you look at spreading the wealth, that's honestly right out of Karl Marx's mouth," Wurzelbacher said.
"No one can debate that. That's not my opinion. That's fact."
The attempts to compare Obama's relatively modest restructuring of the progressive tax system to Marxism strikes most reasonable observers as patently absurd, but the attack seems to be all the foundering McCain campaign has left. Obama's proposal would raise the tax rate on income above $250,000 from 36 to 39 percent and lower taxes for middle-class Americans.
McCain's campaign also has heavily courted Jewish voters, who will be a crucial voting bloc in Florida and other swing states.
Wurzelbacher's agreement that Obama would portend the death of Israel, though, seems to go beyond rhetoric the McCain campaign has employed so far. Until Tuesday, that kind of fear-mongering was mostly limited to right-wing blogs.
The McCain campaign said Wurzelbacher and the supporter's views were there own regarding Israel, but they did not forcefully repudiate the attack, Fox News's Carl Cameron reported just after the rally.
A Republican National Committee spokesman later gave Fox a longer statement that largely skirted the issue.
"While he's clearly his own man, so far Joe has offered some penetrating and clear analysis that cuts to the core of many of the concerns that people have with Barack Obama's statements and policies," RNC spokesman Jeff Sadosky said. "Whether it is Obama's willingness to sit down unconditionally with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, or his plans to redistribute the paychecks of hardworking Americans, there is good reason to question the judgment that Obama would bring to the Oval Office."
Cameron noted the statement "doesn't say whether or not McCain agrees" with Wurzelbacher and the supporter and said McCain "won't go too far" to distance himself from the man who's become a campaign centerpiece.