Barack Obama would be the first president in generations with an opportunity to truly change the misdirection of the United States. The election of an African American progressive, however, will continue to enflame the ugliest side of the American character.

As one who has spent his entire journalistic career standing up to or railing against the God-Guns-and-Greed coalition that has dominated American life and politics since the late 1970s, I must say that observing politics this year has been gratifying, to say the least.

Regardless of what happens Tuesday, watching the likes of Sarah Palin, "Joe the Plumber" and George W. Bush exposed as liars, thugs and thieves has been a blast, not to mention supremely confirming.

Good God. Palin didn't say "No!" to the Bridge to Nowhere, she abused her power as governor, and she pals around with hate-filled secessionists. Joe isn't his name, he doesn't have a license to plumb, and he doesn't pay his taxes. (But he does have an agent.)

Palin and Samuel Wurzelbacher are indeed the poster kids for those who have spent the last three decades aiding and abetting the James Dobsons, Timothy McVeighs and Ken Lays of our society. They represent the ugliest Americans, and the American people appear to be telling them to screw off.

It's almost enough to inspire hope. But then, as a lifelong Hoosier, I can attest that there is no cure for this strain of American Ugly. If Barack Obama is elected on Tuesday, the virus will mutate, and it will only get uglier. You can count on that.

Two issues raised by John McCain and his running mate -- the etiology of developmental disorders like autism and "domestic terrorism" -- are byproducts of this insidious affliction.

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"Americans will always do the right thing, after they have exhausted all the alternatives."
- Winston Churchill

The Palins' child Trig has the developmental disorder Down Syndrome, and McCain has cited Sarah Palin's role as a special-needs parent as a highlight on her resume.

He has pledged to find the cause of autism, though it's hard to imagine that this year's face of the Grand Old Pollution Party would embrace and act on the facts.

Here's one.

Indiana Resource Center for Autism Director Cathy Pratt wrote on the organization's Web site that in the late 1980s, commonly accepted incidence rates for autism ranged from two to five individuals per 10,000.

"Today, the Centers for Disease Control believes that the incidence is one in 150 for those diagnosed with autism, Asperger's syndrome, and other pervasive developmental disorders," she wrote. If that estimate is correct, Indiana would have 42,090 citizens with diagnoses "on the autism spectrum."

Here's another fact.

The Harvard School of Public Health and Mount Sinai School of Medicine published a study in the November 2007 issue of the British medical journal The Lancet titled "Developmental neurotoxicity of industrial chemicals." It addressed the role of toxic chemicals in "neurodevelopmental disorders" like autism, attention deficit disorder, cerebral palsy and mental retardation.

"Two issues raised by John McCain and his running mate -- the etiology of developmental disorders like autism and "domestic terrorism" -- are byproducts of this insidious affliction."

"The researchers found that 202 industrial chemicals have the capacity to damage the human brain," a Harvard news release proclaimed, "and they conclude that chemical pollution may have harmed the brains of millions of children worldwide."

That's millions of children with damaged brains, from Bloomington to Boston to Baghdad and Beijing. Among the chemicals known to cause these disorders: "lead, methylmercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), arsenic, and toluene," the researchers concluded in the study.

Six Superfund Sites within 20 miles of the Courthouse Square in downtown Bloomington released PCBs into the air, water and land for decades, unchecked, from the 1950s until "cleanups" were initiated in the 1980s and 90s.

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The McCain camp's obsession with Barack Obama's peripheral relationship with '70s-era radical Bill Ayers has been particularly poignant, considering America's history of political violence.

Ayers was an unrepentant member of the Weather Underground, a militant offshoot of the radical-left Students for a Democratic Society in the 1960s and '70s. The Weathermen, as they were also known, believed in the violent overthrow of the U.S. government.

And they acted upon their beliefs. They planned and planted bombs in the places Sarah Palin said they did, like the Pentagon and the U.S. Capitol.

But the Weathermen were scrupulous in their efforts to avoid human injury, always alerting authorities to their bombs before they went off. No innocent victims ever died in a Weather Underground bombing, though three Weathermen died in 1971 when a bomb they were building prematurely exploded.

One innocent victim was killed at the University of Wisconsin in August 1970, when four radicals set off a car bomb outside a campus building that housed the Army Mathematics Research Center, which they thought was unoccupied.

"In the U.S., violence directed toward abortion providers has killed seven people, including three doctors, two clinic employees, a security guard and a clinic escort."
- Wikipedia

Right-wing, anti-government militants Timothy McVeigh, Terry Nichols and other conspirators, on the other hand, killed 168 innocent Americans with a single car bomb in Oklahoma City in 1995.

In the mid 1970s, a militant-left group called the Symbionese Liberation Army, which famously kidnapped newspaper heiress Patty Hearst and included two former Bloomingtonians, robbed banks and killed two individuals in the San Francisco Bay area -- one an assassination, the other during a bank robbery.

Here's what Wikipedia says about "abortion-related violence" in the 1990s.

"In the U.S., violence directed toward abortion providers has killed seven people, including three doctors, two clinic employees, a security guard and a clinic escort."

How many conservative presidents, candidates and public figures have been the victims of politically motivated violence since the end of World War II?

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Winston Churchill once said, "Americans will always do the right thing, after they have exhausted all the alternatives."

Well, the ongoing economic and environmental global collapses are evidence that we've now exhausted the Ugly Americans' radical-right alternative. And Barack Obama is in fact the first mainstream politician in generations with a whisper of a chance to actually move the country in another direction.

Whether Obama will be a "transformative figure," as Gen. Colin Powell proclaimed, or a disappointment to progressives, as conservative commentator Bill Kristol predicts, only time and history will tell. Six weeks ago I would have agreed with Kristol. Now, I'm not so sure.

Regardless, watching the Right crash while a critical mass develops around a progressive agenda, at long last, has been exciting to observe.

Steven Higgs can be reached at editor@BloomingtonAlternative.com.