Sen. Barack Obama told Charlie Gibson that he doesn’t know why Sen. John McCain didn’t say to his face what McCain has been telling his campaign crowds.  Should McCain gather enough courage to say it at the next debate, here’s what he should say.

Sen. McCain, you once said you wanted a respectful campaign about the issues facing the American people.  Those issues are much more critical than they were when you said that.  Since then, our economy is imploding and Americans’ retirement accounts have shrunk dramatically. 

But that’s not the campaign you’re running now.  Instead, you have sunk to repeated character assassination with charges you know to be false.

Mr. Ayers committed his acts when I was 8 years old.  I’ve condemned them.  Now — I admit — I admit that I didn’t condemn them when I was 8 years old. So if you want to criticize me for not condemning him right away, I guess I’ll have to accept that criticism.  But I have unequivocally condemned his acts.  And as has been reported all across this country, Mr. Ayers and I are not friends.  He does live in my neighborhood and we both served on boards of organizations that looked to improve education and relieve poverty.  You may think that’s a crime. I’ll let the American people be my judge.

Are you, Sen. McCain, willing to be condemned by the actions of any of the people who have supported you?  Would that include Charles Keating?  Would that include Pastor John Hagee?  Do you, Sen. McCain, want to be judged by members of groups you’ve been associated with?  Maybe John Singlaub, the leader of a group linked to Nazi collaborators?

Let’s stop this nonsense of trying to find ways to divide the American people over manufactured controversies?  Let’s discuss how we want to lead this country. Shame on you, John.

And by the way, if this line of attack continues, I think Obama should bring it up at the next debate, accusing McCain of being two-faced and a coward.