First, this confession. Many years ago, while teaching high school in San Francisco, I lived in the same precinct as former Black Panther Angela Davis. I may even have said hello once or twice. Yes, I am a terrorist.

But I’m not the only one. As a young man, former North Vietnamese dictator Ho Chi Minh worked as a baker at Boston’s famous Parker House Hotel. All those who worked with him in the kitchen? Lock ’em up! Terrorists!

Absurd? Of course! But no more absurd than John McCain’s continuing accusations that Barack Obama is a terrorist sympathizer because of his relationship with Bill Ayers. As revealed in this column last week, their relationship is almost nonexistent.

Obama was 8 years old and living in Indonesia with his mother when Ayers helped found the Weatherman organization. By the time Obama met him, in 1995, Ayers was a tenured education professor at the University of Illinois in Chicago, consultant to the mayor on education reform and had been honored as Chicago’s “Citizen of the Year.” Along with dozens of others, Obama served on two charitable boards with Ayers and attended a political coffee in his home. Obama hasn’t seen Ayers, or spoken with him, for three years.

That’s it. End of story. But, based on that slim connection, McCain and running mate Sarah Palin accuse Obama of “palling around with terrorists.” This is the kind of guilt-by-association politics – “Are you now, or have you ever been?” – we haven’t seen since the days of Sen. Joseph McCarthy. And it’s especially dangerous for John McCain, who’s been “palling around” with some pretty unsavory characters himself – starting with Charles Keating, whose fraudulent business practices triggered the S&L crisis that cost taxpayers $3.4 billion.

McCain accepted over $150,000 in campaign contributions from Keating and associates. He and his family also often vacationed at Keating’s Bahamas retreat and flew on his private jet. Cindy McCain invested in a Keating real estate project. They were business partners and personal buddies.

Then there’s G. Gordon Liddy, who spent four years in federal prison for his role in the 1972 Watergate burglary. Liddy held a fundraiser for McCain in his home. In November 2007, as a candidate for president, McCain told Liddy on his radio show: “I’m proud of you. … Congratulations on your continued success and adherence to the principles and philosophies that keep our nation great.”

What principles was McCain talking about? In his autobiography, Liddy admits plotting with co-conspirator Howard Hunt to kill journalist Jack Anderson. And in 1994, after the government’s raid on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, Liddy told his listeners: “Now, if the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms comes to disarm you and they are bearing arms, resist them with arms. Go for a head shot. … Kill the sons of bitches.” Are those are the principles that “keep our nation great”?

Retired Gen. John Singlaub is another McCain sidekick. In the 1980s, as a member of Congress, McCain sat on the advisory board of Singlaub’s organization, the U.S. Council for World Freedom. Long linked to ultra-right-wing death squads in Central America, the council played a major role in the Reagan administration’s Iran-Contra scandal, serving as the front group for Ollie North’s illegal White House operation of selling arms to Iran in order to arm the contras.

McCain’s own rogues gallery also includes Washington attorney William Timmons, whom McCain recently named to head his presidential transition team (as though he’ll need one). Not only is Timmons a registered lobbyist – one of many lobbyists McCain has surrounded himself with, despite his daily promise to chase lobbyists out of Washington – he also counts among his previous clients: Saddam Hussein!

For five years, Timmons worked with a team of lobbyists to ease international sanctions against Iraq. Their lobbying activities occurred in the years immediately following the first Gulf War, when the United States had already branded Iraq as a rogue enemy state and a sponsor of terrorism.

In other words, in the warped thinking of the McCain campaign, John McCain hangs out with convicted felons, a would-be murderer, an illegal arms merchant and Saddam Hussein’s lobbyist, and he’s an American hero. Barack Obama serves on a charitable board with a man who conspired to commit illegal acts 26 years before he met him, yet he’s a terrorist.

Go figure. Only Sarah Palin could follow that logic.

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