We already knew this based on what she said to Bill Kristol and what Salter’s allegedly said about losing honorably, but Politico puts the pieces together. The oddest aspect isn’t McCain’s reasoning — in light of that NYT poll, hitting Wright could very well backfire spectacularly — but the sense that he’s not prepared to try anything different with less than three weeks left and the polls grim. If he won’t hit Wright and he’s not planning some sort of grand economic-emergency campaign reboot, then it looks like we’re riding Ayers all the way to the finish line. The Chicago Tribune reports this morning that he has photos of Che and Mumia on his office door, so there’s something for the next ad, I guess. Or would mentioning that be racist, too?

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and several top campaign officials see a sharp attack on Wright as the best — and perhaps last — chance to rattle Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and force voters to rethink their support of him. But McCain continues to overrule them, fearing a Wright attack would smack of desperation and racism, the officials said.

With McCain unlikely to budge, GOP officials are hoping groups outside of the campaign will finance an ad attack on Obama-Wright ties. It is unclear if any conservative group has the cash to bankroll a serious effort, however.

“Wright is off the table,” said one top campaign official. “It’s all McCain. He won’t go there. His advisers would have gone there.”…

“There’s a slippery slope in politics on the racial divide, and Senator McCain made it very clear early on that he did not want to get into that area,” a top Republican official said. “I don’t want to be known as a racist, and McCain doesn’t want to be known as a racist candidate.”…

“McCain felt it would be sensed as racially insensitive,” the official said. “But more important is that McCain thinks that the bringing of racial religious preaching in black churches into the campaign would potentially have grave consequences for civil society in the United States.”

John McCormack at the Standard dialed up the American Issues Project, which produced that brutal Ayers ad last month, to see if they’re thinking of picking up the slack. Answer: A coy demurral. I’ll be shocked if we don’t see something next week. As for McCain’s fears of being called a racist, another Politico writer memorably addressed that “logic” a few days ago, as did Limbaugh on yesterday’s show. You’ll find a clip below. Tony Blankley puts it this way, appealing to Maverick’s sense of honor:

The Obama campaign has raised to a high art the technique of politically intimidating people from commenting honestly about Mr. Obama. They don’t only dishonestly play the race card; almost the entire deck from which they deal is filled with race cards – and threats of litigation. Real racism is appalling, but the act of falsely charging racism undercuts the very causes of equality and tolerance.

As courageous as Mr. McCain’s life has been to date, the next three weeks may be his most heroic. He must do his duty and alert the public – despite the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” that will be shot into his back as he does so.

Exit question: If bringing up Wright is such a grave threat to civil society, how’d civil society survive the three-week orgy of media coverage of him back in March?