Lawyers have an old saying: "If you have the facts on your side, pound the facts. If you have the law on your side, pound the law. If you have neither, pound the table."
Jewish Republicans must have little faith in Sen. John McCain's version of the facts, because they are pounding the table with both fists and their reputation is getting splinters in a vicious campaign to smear Barack Obama.
It started last year with anonymous e-mails claiming the Democratic nominee was really a Muslim who took his Senate oath on the Koran and was a sleeper agent of Islamic terrorists while attending a Christian church where the pastor railed against Jews and Israel.
The latest is a phony survey that doesn't want to know what you think, but instead tries to poison your views with more slurs. Another element is ads in Jewish newspapers and Israeli media Web sites linking Obama to the likes of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Patrick Buchanan, Jimmy Carter and the leaders of Hamas.
The Republican Jewish Coalition is behind this latest Swift Boating campaign. Political pros currently think Obama may beat McCain two to one or better in the Jewish community, but won't match the three to one of John Kerry over George W. Bush four years ago. Part of the reason may be a lack of familiarity with Obama among Jews, but the biggest factor, say politicos, is the smear campaign.
Would that have been as effective if Obama's father, like his mother, were white? A recent report in the New York Jewish Week suggests race is a factor among some traditionally Democratic Jews, particularly the older generation. That may explain why a major target of the RJC campaign is South Florida, with its high concentration of elderly Jewish voters.
McCain has a strong pro-Israel record, the aura of a war hero, close ties to the Jewish community and enough Democratic policy differences to exploit without having to sink to such tactics, especially since he was the victim of similar smears in 2000 when running against George W. Bush. He bitterly denounced the practice then and vowed he'd never stoop so low.
Back then, the phony polls asked if people were aware that he "has voted to use unborn babies in medical research," that he had sold out fellow POWs in Vietnam to save himself, that his wife was a drug addict and that he had an illegitimate black daughter.
That was then; this is now. Some of the people responsible for those attacks on McCain are now working for him or, like Karl Rove, advising his campaign.
He should be outraged that RJC is calling Jews in five battleground states to ask similarly loaded questions. The group won't release its list of questions, but, according to media reports, they include: Would you still vote for Barack Obama if you knew he'd been endorsed by Hamas? Had contributed to the PLO? Supports a divided Jerusalem? Has had a decade-long relationship with pro-Palestinian leaders in Chicago? Attended a church known for its anti-Israel and anti-American remarks? Is advised by Jimmy Carter's anti-Israel national security adviser?
Such calls are not designed to collect information but to spread innuendo, lies and fear through hypothetical questions.
Callers don't identify they are working for RJC, but the group does sign the ads prominently showing the notoriously anti-Israel Pat Buchanan giving a smiling thumbs up to Obama. Matt Brooks, RJC's executive director, says he isn't suggesting Obama supports Buchanan's views, but that "Buchanan shares Obama's views on Iran and Israel."
What dangerous anti-Israel, anti-American view is that? Buchanan's quoted right there in the ad: "I think Barack is right, we ought to talk to the Iranians."
What's conveniently missing is who else shares that view that RJC calls "dangerous, reckless and wrong"? Five former secretaries of state, including Henry Kissinger and Colin Powell, agree with Obama.
There are no winners in such high-powered smear campaigns, only losers. And the biggest loser is the Jewish community, because this reflects on all of us. We need strong representation in both parties, not this kind of reputation. And it also undercuts decades of efforts aimed at making support for Israel a cause that transcends party lines.
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a Washington, D.C.-based columnist.