Incumbent Republican Congressman Virgil Goode has a long, sordid record of animosity against Muslims, African-Americans, Hispanics and, apparently, even Italians.

So he’s running ads against his Italian-American Democratic opponent that use a darkened photo that leave the impression that Tom Perriello could be Middle Eastern, Hispanic or even — God forbid — black.

The ad is smear politics in its lowest, basest form and prompted a well-deserved and strong editorial in The Roanoke Times:

Rep. Virgil Goode’s latest foray into the politics of fear goes too far.

Granted, distorting opponents’ views in political campaigns is so commonplace that the practice barely garners a public shrug. A recent Goode TV attack ad is something different, though, and warrants voter disgust.

Way beyond simply and only slightly distorting his opponent’s stand on domestic oil drilling, the Republican incumbent in Virginia’s 5th Congressional District distorts Democrat Tom Perriello’s appearance. And the distortion seems designed to encourage ugly nativist fears.

As a voice-over warns viewers that Perriello is "wrong for Virginia," the ad shows a still image of the candidate shaded so darkly that he could be Middle Eastern — or perhaps Hispanic. Voters can see whatever "other" stirs their distrust.

This kind of fear mongering is business as usual for Goode. I watched him spread his snake oil during my years in Washington and it made be sick to my stomach that this racist and misogynist not only came from my home state of Virginia but also from neighboring Franklin County.

But his ad, sick as it is, is also business as usual for the Republican Party. I know because, to my shame, I worked for too long as an operative for the GOP. I served on Capitol Hill as an aide to three Republican Congressmen. I was a political operative in the 1984 Reagan-Bush campaign and dozens of House and Senate campaigns and later as a communications associate for The Eddie Mahe Company, a prominent GOP political consulting firm.

During those years, I not only observed, but participated in, too many organized campaigns of character assassination, smear campaigns and outright distortion of facts to serve the Republican cause. I made a lot of money working for Republicans. I’m not proud of it but it happened.

What Goode is doing is just one part of a well-organized, heavily-funded and tightly-orchestrated GOP campaign of fear that runs from the grassroots to the national political parties. The current campaign of fear-mongering by the McCain campaign against Barack Obama falls under the same umbrella and is designed to raise fear about Obama’s race.

As The Associated Press pointed out this week:

By claiming that Democrat Barack Obama is "palling around with terrorists" and doesn’t see the U.S. like other Americans, vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin targeted key goals for a faltering campaign.

And though she may have scored a political hit each time, her attack was unsubstantiated and carried a racially tinged subtext that John McCain himself may come to regret.

First, Palin’s attack shows that her energetic debate with rival Joe Biden may be just the beginning, not the end, of a sharpened role in the battle to win the presidency.

"Our opponent … is someone who sees America, it seems, as being so imperfect, imperfect enough, that he’s palling around with terrorists who would target their own country," Palin told a group of donors in Englewood, Colo. A deliberate attempt to smear Obama, McCain’s ticket-mate echoed the line at three separate events Saturday.

To be fair, both sides use negative ads but I know from working inside the Republican Party that their attacks are too often driven by racism (both overt and latent), homophobia and fear of anything that is not white, Anglo-Saxon and pseudo-Christian.

Franklin Roosevelt said "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." In this election, we must fear the fearmongers even more.