The late Republican political operative Lee Atwater, shown above with the man he helped win the White House, the first President Bush, would have been proud over the weekend to hear current GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin say that Barack Obama is "palling around with terrorists." It was Atwater who famously said of Michael Dukakis, "I'll strip the bark off the little bastard." He did that, in large part, with the infamous Willie Horton ad, linking Dukakis to a convicted killer on a weekend furlough who committed an armed robbery and raped a woman. Palin, in her weekend campaign appearances, said Obama is "not a man who sees America like you and I see America. 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." The "terrorist" to whom Palin referred is William Ayers, who was a member of the violent Weather Underground during the Vietnam era. Obama, of course, was a little boy when Ayers was in the domestic terror group, and he has since denounced Ayers' actions and beliefs. As for "palling around," that's a huge exaggeration. An Associated Press report notes that Ayers and Obama once served on a board together, and the older man hosted a political event for Obama when the latter was first running for office in Illinois. There's no evidence, says the AP, that the men have, or ever had, a close relationship. Palin's comments tap into the "Obama is a Muslim" undercurrent of the political campaign, and I feel pretty sure that if you don't know who William Ayers is, the McCain-Palin campaign would be OK with it if you, in your mind, just pictured Obama holding hands with Osama bin Laden. This latest negative approach from the GOP camp follows a rough week for the McCain-Palin ticket in which the economy took center stage and polls showed Obama building leads in key states. The Republicans are making it clear that over the last four weeks of the campaign, they'll be focusing on Obama's "character" and fitness to hold the nation's top office. That sort of attacking, mud-slinging approach doesn't come without hazards. If the GOP tries to sully Obama's character by saying he "pals around" with terrorists, the Democrats might point out that McCain was "palling around" with his second wife while still living with the first Mrs. McCain. If they target Obama for his relationship with criminal businessman and fundraiser Tony Rezko, the Obama camp can reference McCain's even-closer relationship with Charles Keating, a central figure in the 1980s savings and loan scandal whose S&L failure cost investors, including many elderly people, their life savings, and cost taxpayers billions. (In fact, the Obama camp already has issued a Web video and letter on the Keating case in response to Palin's weekend remarks.) The Republicans might also revive the controversy over Obama's former pastor, Jeremiah Wright. While it's pretty clear Wright is a hateful idiot, McCain also has his pastor problems. After seeking the endorsements of conservative preachers Rod Parsley and John Hagee, McCain had to reject those endorsements and distance himself from the men of the cloth. Parsley, you see, likes to rattle sabers for a holy war against Islam, and Hagee has referred to the Roman Catholic Church as "the great whore" and a "false cult system." What it all boils down to is this: All four of the candidates in this election - Obama, McCain, Palin and Biden - have skeletons in their closets. Those skeletons already are known to anyone who has been paying even a little attention to the presidential race. The question is this: Are we going to spend the next four weeks basing our decision in the presidential race on who can come up with the most damning TV ad rehashing the dirty laundry of the other candidate, or are we going to look at the issues and vote for the person we believe is best-equipped to lead the country for the next four years. It's your decision.