One of the clearest examples you’ll ever see of why The One seldom dirties his hands by playing the race card. Not only will his political surrogates do it for him, his media surrogates happily will, too. There were stories out yesterday about how McCain’s planning to go after him on Ayers over the next month and how Team Barry’s planning a little “preemptive” action. Here’s part of the preemption, courtesy of the AP: Mention Obama’s connection to a white domestic terrorist and you’re a racist.

“Our opponent … is someone who sees America, it seems, as being so imperfect, imperfect enough, that he’s palling around with terrorists who would target their own country,” Palin told a group of donors in Englewood, Colo. A deliberate attempt to smear Obama, McCain’s ticket-mate echoed the line at three separate events Saturday.

“This is not a man who sees America like you and I see America,” she said. “We see America as a force of good in this world. We see an America of exceptionalism.”…

Palin’s words avoid repulsing voters with overt racism. But is there another subtext for creating the false image of a black presidential nominee “palling around” with terrorists while assuring a predominantly white audience that he doesn’t see their America?

In a post-Sept. 11 America, terrorists are envisioned as dark-skinned radical Muslims, not the homegrown anarchists of Ayers’ day 40 years ago. With Obama a relative unknown when he began his campaign, the Internet hummed with false e-mails about ties to radical Islam of a foreign-born candidate.

Whether intended or not by the McCain campaign, portraying Obama as “not like us” is another potential appeal to racism. It suggests that the Hawaiian-born Christian is, at heart, un-American.

Most troubling, however, is how allowing racism to creep into the discussion serves McCain’s purpose so well. As the fallout from Wright’s sermons showed earlier this year, forcing Obama to abandon issues to talk about race leads to unresolved arguments about America’s promise to treat all people equally.

Biden couldn’t do any better in his VP attack-dog role, and now he doesn’t have to. The left’s spin on this is that the two never really “palled around,” which may or may not be true (Obama supporter Richard Daley famously calls them “friends”) but in either case is beside the point. The question isn’t whether they’re “pals,” it’s whether Obama had any objection to working with Ayers until he started running for president and was pressed on the subject. He attended a meet-and-greet at Ayers’s home as a neophyte pol to help launch his career; he served, apparently without a problem, alongside him on nonprofits. Not once, to my knowledge, has he claimed that he didn’t know Ayers’s past during that time. According to Andrew Sullivan, Palin’s refusal to produce medical evidence that Trig emerged from her birth canal and not Bristol’s is relevant as a measure of transparency and accountability. Presumably, then, Obama’s sustained comfort around a degenerate whose chief regret from his mad bomber days is that he didn’t do “more” is relevant as a measure of character, particularly since Ayers wasn’t the first radical with whom The One’s associated. Or have the Obama rules now been updated to absolve him from character questions that any other politician would be asked? Hillary didn’t think so. But she’s a racist too, I guess.

Two other points. One, note the casual, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it suggestion that it doesn’t matter if the campaign’s intent is racist or not. I’ve been warning you about that since the left went nuts over the Britney ad. In a sane world, whether or not there’s racist intent behind this would be the whole thrust of the inquiry; as it is, it’s an afterthought. And if you accept the AP’s premise that the rules for Obama should be different, then they’re right — it is an afterthought. Challenge The One’s personal judgments and you’re presumed guilty, conclusively. Two, I’m not sure how to take the fact that the AP seems more concerned with Obama being falsely linked to “dark-skinned radical Muslims” who set bombs than accurately linked to a light-skinned radical leftist who set bombs. If it turned out McCain had served on a nonprofit board with someone from the Manson family, rest assured that the media’s main vein of concern wouldn’t be how Team Barry might use that information to falsely imply that Maverick’s connected to other killers. I’ve made this point before, too: Under most circumstances the left is quick to argue against distinguishing between domestic and foreign terrorists, but suddenly the AP finds those distinctions very important indeed. Is the tool who wrote this so underwhelmed by what Ayers did that he can’t conceive of how it might worry voters except in terms of making them think Obama’s a Muslim?

Lots, lots more from Goldstein. Exit question: Why bother with the Ayers stuff anyway? Isn’t there a better use of McCain’s and Palin’s time at this point?

Update: Palin’s not backing down, and neither is Team Maverick:

“The last four weeks of this election will be about whether the American people are willing to turn our economy and national security over to Barack Obama, a man with little record, questionable judgment, and ties to radical figures like unrepentant domestic terrorist William Ayers. Americans need to ask themselves if they’ve ever befriended an unrepentant terrorist, or had a convicted felon help them buy their house — because those aren’t smears, those are true facts about Barack Obama.” —Tucker Bounds, spokesman McCain-Palin 2008

Update: E&P makes a good point, inadvertently, in trying to absolve Obama: If The One is guilty of looking the other way at Ayers’s terrorist past, so is pretty much every other Democrat in Chicago. This isn’t an “Obama problem,” in other words, as much as it is a problem with his side not fretting overly much about youthful ’60s indiscretions like killing cops with pipe bombs in the name of progress.