Regardless of your political bent, the Ashley Todd story is too sad and pathetic to feel anything but depressed about.
Todd, a 20-year-old woman from College Station who was working in Pittsburgh as a John McCain campaign volunteer, told authorities that on Wednesday night a large African-American man attacked her at an ATM, stole her money, and then mercilessly beat her when he noticed the McCain sticker on her car. According to Todd, he carved the letter "B" on her face and told her: "You are going to be a Barack supporter."
This afternoon, Pittsburgh police officials announced that Todd made up the entire story, something which she apparently confessed to them under repeated questioning.
Todd is obviously a disturbed individual, and for that reason is deserving of some sympathy. But given the racial distrust that always bubbles under the surface in this society -- and particularly in this presidential campaign -- her exploitation of a racial stereotype she knew would be frightening to many white Americans, in a desperate bid to draw attention to herself (and, presumably, put a dent in the post-racial campaign marketing of Obama) is a crime that's bigger than simply pulling a hoax on overtaxed police officers.
When Susan Smith killed her two young sons in 1994 and tried to pin the murders on some mystery carjacker, her creation of an imaginary black villain pushed an abominable act into the realm of pure cynicism. Even in her warped mind-frame, she sensed that playing on cultural fears would make her more sympathetic to her community.
Much like Smith, Todd didn't fool people for long, but she kept the ruse going long enough to receive Thursday phone calls from McCain and Sarah Palin expressing their concern, and a statement of sympathy from the Obama campaign.
For my money, though, the weirdest part of this deeply weird story is the Thursday blog by Fox News Executive VP John Moody, who wrote that, if true, Todd's ordeal may cause some voters "to revisit their support for Senator Obama ... because they suddenly feel they do not know enough about the Democratic nominee."
Try wrapping your cranium around that piece of logic: "Now that some guy from Pittsburgh attacked a McCain volunteer, I realize that I don't know Barack Obama at all. Because of a random act of violence perpetrated by somebody who shares nothing with Obama but skin color, I just may have to change my vote!"
Moody went on to say that if Todd was making up the story -- as we now know that she did -- it would represent the end of McCain's chances, because he'd be "forever linked to race-baiting."
For the life of me, I can't see how this incident reflects on the candidacy of either man. It tells us a lot about Todd's psychological problems, but what does that have to do with McCain?
These candidates have sufficiently full plates answering for their own political transgressions. Let's not force them to answer for every mugger or hoax perpetrator in the country who plans to vote for them.