Last Tuesday, I stopped by the Harris County Democratic Party outreach office in Midtown Houston to pick up an Obama yard sign. It cost me five bucks. The volunteer who sold it to me said, “Keep an eye on it. They′re disappearing all over town.”

I picked my kids up from daycare that day‚ and we put it up in the front yard together.

“What’s that sign for?” my three-year-old asked.

“It’s our Barack Obama sign, buddy.”

“He’s gonna be our next president?”

“Rocko Bama? Our next president?” my two-year-old echoed.

“I hope so, guys.”

I wasn′t going to post a yard sign. They′re not attractive. No one keeps a yard sign out for decoration, after the election, but once I saw the McCain-Palin signs springing up in view of my front porch, I was compelled to respond. Even my wife, usually the firewall of my bad taste, agreed.

I had the sign up for about a day, when our next door neighbor came over. “I saw your sign. I just told my husband, ‘I knew I liked the Lipps for a reason.’”

This is why we bought the sign. Come on out Democrats. You′re safe. Even in West Houston.

As I drove to work, each morning, I considered putting the sign in the house. I wanted to keep the sign. After the election, I thought, it would go great on a wall in my garage— maybe between the poster of Churchill holding a tommy gun, and the inexplicable cardboard box that just says “protective underwear.”

I looked around at my neighborhood and my quiet street, and thought about the folks who have McCain signs up—the guy who owns his own business, the two retired couples, the family with elementary-aged daughters. We disagree about this election, but we′re neighbors. I know them; they know me. I convinced myself that my sign would be safe.

We spent the weekend out of town, and came home Sunday to find our sign missing.

I guess I saw it coming, because I wasn′t really surprised. It might have been my neighbors. It might have been someone driving through. The McCain signs are all still there, though, so I′ve ruled out terrorists who are angered by our freedom as the perpetrators of this particular crime.

Since the theft, I′ve had more than a couple of McCain supporters suggest that the perpetrator might have been an envious Obama supporter, unwilling to shell out five bucks of their own. Leaving alone their implication that somehow Obama supporters are more inclined to petty larceny than McCain supporters are to micro-scale intimidation, though, it still seems unlikely. With a dozen or so McCain-Palin signs visible from my front yard, I have a hard time believing that an Obamaniac would want to extract the silver lining.

Looking at those McCain-Palin signs unmolested makes my stomach turn. I want to make a sweep of the neighborhood, and get rid of them all. Or put them all up in my yard as my ironic tribute to the crook who stole from me. I don′t think he′d appreciate it though, and I know my wife wouldn′t. I asked her.

I also asked her what she thought about me painting a new sign, “Some McCain Thug Stole My Obama Sign.”

“I’m angry too,” she said, “but I don′t want the house vandalized, and I don′t want to provoke anything that would end up scaring the boys. You know it could happen, and your sign would be super tacky.”

She′s right. It would be tacky, and I can′t rule out the possibility that the politically-engaged thug in question would react in a thuggish way. That′s the world we live in, and we paid the smallest of prices for a political campaign that has gotten very much out of hand.

A recent “Letter from the Future” circa 2012, by Focus on the Family, points back to the years between now and then. Russia has occupied Eastern Europe, Iran waged a nuclear attack on Israel, religious radio has been banned, four American cities have been hit by terrorist attacks, there′s genocide in Iraq and the Boy Scouts closed up shop, rather than be forced to bed homosexual leaders in the same tents as young boys.

Closer to our own time, top McCain surrogate Samuel “the Plumber” Wurzelbacher, agreed publicly with a McCain supporter who said “a vote for Obama is a vote for the death of Israel.”

Campaigns are always rough, but what sets this particular brand of mud apart from the mud of campaigns gone by is the cataclysmic ramifications that these charges represent. If these things were true, that a presidential candidate, if elected, would bring these culture-shattering events to pass, wouldn′t any patriot be compelled to stop that from happening?

I think most will acknowledge that this is the overheated rhetoric of organizations feverish after a two-year-long campaign, but some will believe what they read and hear, and accept these outcomes as a certainty in an Obama administration.

The U.S. District Court in Jackson, Tennessee unsealed documents revealing a plot by two would-be assassins to kill Senator Obama, along with dozens of others. Their poorly orchestrated plan represented a home grown terrorist operation, on a scale unseen since the Oklahoma City bombing. Fortunately, these conspirators were captured but others, inspired maybe by the “Letter from the Future,” or Wurzelbacher′s ominous warnings of impending socialism, are in all likelihood planning to avoid the mistakes of this would-be attempt on Obama′s life.

When actual presidential campaigns, and organizations like Focus on the Family, play zero-sum games with political fear and intimidation, there are real world consequences, beyond the outcomes of elections.

I still believe that a President McCain would be significantly more reasonable than candidate McCain. There′s no reason to believe that he wouldn′t be a president who understands the separation of powers, and who can actually work with, rather than around, the House and Senate. Aside from the Iraq war, which appears likely to end one way or another before 2012, U.S. foreign policy under President McCain could actually be moderated by the errors of the last eight years. I don′t think President McCain would be the red-faced ideologue we′ve been seeing on the stump since this summer. Even now in interviews, he tends to back away from the more inflammatory accusations he wields from the podium, much to the apparent chagrin of his campaign staff.

However, President McCain cannot be allowed to happen—not least for John McCain′s own sake. If this campaign is successful, what does that mean for 2012? If guilt by association tactics, and lies about someone′s faith and family are an effective way to the White House, why not spread lies discrediting incumbent President McCain′s Vietnam service, and conduct in the Hanoi Hilton? I don’t recall McCain making a profession of faith. How can evangelicals trust that he′s not an atheist?

If scare tactics on this scale really work, what is to stop a campaign from going full-bore at every opportunity to smear their opponent, regardless of any grounding in reality? If intimidation is allowed to work, why not put it into constant practice, in ways large and small?

I actually believe that America can back away from the brink. I think the electorate can denounce these tactics, rather than reinforce them, and thereby make them the default. At this point though, there′s only one way to do it, and that is to elect Barack Obama.

For my part, I′m gonna go buy another sign.