Senator John McCain appeared desperate in the final debate on Wednesday night with his Democratic rival in the upcoming presidential election, Senator Barack Obama, whose lead in the polls has been growing and his self-confidence radiant.

The Republican candidate hurled everything at the younger African-American senator, repeating some of the flimsy charges that have not carried much weight, including his short-lived association with William Ayers, whose notoriety as a bomber gained attention in the Sixties when Obama was eight years old. Ayers and Obama (as well as other prominent Americans) have served together on the boards of two non-profit organisations in Chicago.

The presidential election campaign for the election of a new American president on November 4 has at recent rallies regrettably deteriorated to mud-slinging and racial slurs, including anti-Arab bigotry, that disappointingly have not been fully repudiated by McCain or Obama.

The events took place at Republican party rallies sometimes attended by Sen McCain. None were reported at Democratic Party events and it is understandable that Sen.

Obama, who was the obvious target of the abuse, did not chose to respond probably for fear of adding more fire to the exchanges or harm his increasing lead in the opinion polls. But one wonders whether Obama, should he be elected, will not feel intimidated or handcuffed in taking new approaches, particularly on world issues, lest his antagonists would remind everyone, "I told you so."

Nevertheless, the timidity of American leaders and the media (except for a few exceptions like CNN's Campbell Brown) is deplorable.

In reply to a question at the final debate on cutting US dependence on foreign oil, Sen McCain said, "I think we can, for all intents and purposes, eliminate our dependence on Middle Eastern oil and Venezuelan oil." His view is that the US "can eliminate our dependence on foreign oil by building 45 new nuclear power plants, right away" and went on to say that "I think we can easily, within seven, eight, ten years, if we put our minds to it, we can eliminate our dependence on the places in the world that harm our national security if we don't achieve our independence."

In turn, Obama had this to say: "I think that in ten years, we can reduce our dependence so that we no longer have to import oil from the Middle East or Venezuela. I think that's about a realistic time-frame... But understand, we only have three to four per cent of the world's oil reserves and we use 25 per cent of the world's oil, which means that we can't drill our way out of the problem."

This exchange was typical of the political atmosphere that has of late dominated the exchanges between the two party leaders and their surrogates at election rallies particularly in the wake of the short-lived skyrocketing price of oil, and the pronouncements of some American leaders who surprisingly were unaware of the damage they can do in making some inelegant remarks.

Speaking last June in Las Vegas about his "Comprehensive Plan for Energy Security," McCain stressed that "in a world of hostile and unstable suppliers of oil, this nation will achieve strategic independence by 2025." Among those "hostile" countries, the record lists three Arab countries Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Algeria who are among the top ten exporters of oil to the US.

According to former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Chas Freeman, "one of the major things the Saudis have historically done, in part out of friendship with the United States, is to insist that oil continues to be priced in dollars." Therefore, he went on, "the US Treasury can print money and buy oil, which is an advantage no other country has."

Wrong targets

Arabs and Muslims have been the target of abusive comments at several Republican rallies but regrettably the flippant responses were disheartening if not nauseating. For example, a woman at a recent Republican rally told McCain that she does not trust Obama, "I have read about him he's an Arab." The senator's backhanded reaction was, "No ma'am, no ma'am. He's a decent family man, citizen that I just happen to have a disagreement with on fundamental issues. That's what this campaign is all about. He's not, thank you."

At another rally addressed by the vice-presidential candidate, Republican Governor Sarah Palin, someone called out "Kill him!" meaning Obama, who was also branded a "terrorist" at an earlier McCain rally.

What is disappointing here is that neither McCain nor his unbelievable choice for a running mate bothered to stress that Obama is a Christian and not an Arab or a Muslim. How the two Republican candidates failed to recognise that these objectionable remarks from the audience left unanswered would negatively affect the growing Arab and Muslim communities in the US which is approaching 10 million is hair-raising. A matter of fact, the third rival in the presidential election is Ralph Nader, an Arab-American Christian.

One would think McCain or Palin, in the event they win the upcoming election which at this moment seems far-fetched, ought to recognise that they would have to deal with the wider Muslim and Arab countries in the near future, a population that equals one-fifth of the world.

No wonder the African-American Democratic Congressman, John Lewis, a respected civil rights leader, rebuked McCain for putting up with these negative racial slurs against Obama from his party faithful. The atmosphere at times seemed reminiscent of the recent past when African-Americans where down-trodden in the country.

Even McCain's continued lambasting of Obama for his onetime association with William Ayers, a leader of the Weather Underground in the 1960s, who the Republican candidate described as "an unrepentant terrorist." At the final debate, Obama explained, "Ayers is not involved in my campaign. He has never been involved in this campaign. And he will not advise me in the White House."

What is most infuriating about all these shenanigans on the American scene is that the Arabs and Muslims are taking all this lying down rather than launching serious campaigns to educate and enlighten the American people about their legitimate grievances against western policies and actions and that they should not be judged by the actions of fringe groups.

George S. Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. He can be contacted at