As Senator Clinton gears up a gas-tax stratagem just in time for the Indiana and North Carolina primaries add pander-gate to the transparent manipulations that have come to characterize the Clinton campaign – – what could be called a reverse form of substance abuse that embraces a racial subtext as opposed to being issue-driven. How depressing, that being “a fighter” as some describe Clinton, means doing whatever it takes to bring down an opponent when truth isn‘t necessarily a requirement and one’s tactics only serve to remind voters of why politicians are often held in such low esteem.

Obama played “the race card” says Bill in an interview then denies he said it even though his words were recorded. “Sniper fire” says Hillary but when film proves her mistaken she is said to have had a sleep-deprived senior moment (she’s 60 for heavens sake) although her oft-repeated version of this tale suggests either a lot of senior moments or a Pinocchio fetish.

Letting defamation run its course, the Clinton camp has observed a deafening silence regarding ‘60s Weatherman underground figure, William Ayers, dredged up to create the impression he had some significant connection to Obama.  The reality is that the Ayers couple were never convicted and are today respected members of their community involved in the field of education. As it happens Obama was only eight years old during Ayers’ Weatherman days and there was nothing radical about his later, limited association with him as a board member on an anti-poverty organization. Could be it’s a prickly subject for Hillary’s people since President Clinton pardoned two convicted Weathermen activists, a possible talking point for Republicans at some later date.

But why not use the Wright controversy as long and as much as possible and make a point of saying, as Hillary has, that Obama should have left Trinity Unity Church despite the fact that it was a force for good in a community he also served. The Pastor Wright Obama knew wasn’t always ranting about racial angst and crazy notions about HIV as he appeared in sound bytes that serve as political fodder for those who would like an excuse not to support Obama. Nevertheless, it has helped Clinton’s poll numbers to keep the subject alive, and the media has been more than willing to run with it as dozens of resident pundits dissect every component of this unfortunate diversion from real issues.

It seems safe to say race is at the core of all the absurd punditry that revolves around pastor-talk and accusations of throwing grandma under the bus. By the way isn’t it time to find another term for “under the bus”? It’s growing tiresome and slightly gruesome besides. In any case lots of stuff is going on, but people still cling to non-truths and non-issues like saying Obama is a Muslim yet criticizing him for attending a church with a crazy minister. Go figure. What would happen if a few pundits and others just admitted they’d never vote for a black man instead of inventing alternative rationales – – or if on the other hand they really listened to what candidates were saying and insisted on issues-oriented dialogue instead of meaningless, often mean-spirited, partisan rhetoric?

For the time being, any detour from the poisonous atmosphere of the political season seems unlikely; the public will continue to be treated like children who need a spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down as Mary Poppins might prescribe. The trouble is Hillary Clinton is no Mary Poppins, nor is John McCain for that matter, and making the gasoline tax go away is no solution to the bitter draught consumers will have to swallow as fuel costs continue to rise. Any suggestion that the Clinton/McCain prescription for price relief at the pump means they are looking out for ‘the little guy’ is ludicrous and more than a little disappointing considering voters are actually hoping for change in the next election and something resembling truth in government.

There are many other areas of concern in terms of what candidates stand for, but politicizing the gas-tax is a striking and illuminating example of how disingenuous the vote-getting process has become and how phony claims about helping ordinary Americans and promoting the general welfare can be.