Slipping in the polls, Republican John McCain has decided, as his exuberant running mate has repeatedly urged, to "take the gloves off," and Democrat Barack Obama, perhaps sensitive to charges that he is too often slow to counterpunch, has decided to reply in kind.

The result has been entertaining in a professional wrestling sort of way but short on voter enlightenment. To take two examples:

The McCain campaign has been aggressively trying to tar Obama with guilt by association with Bill Ayers, a founder of the radical Weather Underground who has admitted to several bombings in the early ’70s.

Ayers, who has since become a respected educator, is a neighbor of Obama’s and they briefly served on a charitable board and an education project together. But extensive investigations by reputable news organizations have found no close or continuing contact between the two. Even so, Sarah Palin repeatedly brings up Obama’s ties to a "domestic terrorist," which Ayers undeniably was. That was 36 years ago. And, as Obama has pointed out, he was eight years old when the Weather Underground was formed.

The Obama campaign, meanwhile, has revived McCain’s association with the Keating Five, a group of senators who intervened to protect a savings and loan belonging to influential Arizona developer Charles Keating from federal regulators. The S&L failed at a cost to the taxpayers of over $2 billion. A Senate ethics committee investigation found McCain had used "poor judgment," for which he has been apologizing ever since.

The S&L failed in 1989; the ethics hearing was in 1990. You would think there would be a statute of limitations on this kind of stuff but the Obama Web site has posted a 13-minute reprise, complete with ominous music, called "Keating Economics — John McCain and the Making of A Financial Crisis." The implication is that he’s responsible for the current one as well.

With the economy going off a cliff, you would think the two campaigns could find something more productive to talk about than relatively ancient scandals.

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