IN FLIGHT–Air McCain is officially flying on a week-long bio-tour, intended to reintroduce the candidate to America, as a man shaped by service and country. But as McCain’s charter flight hopped between Maryland and Florida Wednesday, his advisers left no doubt that the general election has already begun.
“The lofty rhetoric,” said Steve Schmidt, McCain’s message man, of Barack Obama’s speeches. “It’s nonsense talk.”
McCain’s senior adviser Mark Salter chimed in as well, “His whole brand is, ‘I’m not about that. I’m about something better.’ ”
The two advisers were complaining about Obama’s repeated evocation of McCain’s statement last January that he could foresee a U.S. troop presence in Iraq for another 100 years. At the time, McCain was not speaking about continuing the war in Iraq, but rather about a continuing non-combat presence, along the lines of the U.S. military bases in post-war Korea and Germany.
But since then, Obama, Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party have repeatedly evoked the “100 years” comment to suggest that McCain wants to continue the war for another century. Obama has at various times talked of McCain’s intention to have a “100 years of war” and his intention to stay in Iraq for “another 100 years.” (For a good description of the rhetorical back and forth, see here.)
After weeks of dismissing these statements, McCain’s advisors went on the attack this week, hoping to turn the episode into an opening to impugn Obama’s credibility. “It’s absolutely dishonest,” Schmidt said, an adjective he repeatedly invoked. “It’s old style Chicago politics. I guess that is how they play politics in Chicago,” he said at another point. He even offered some faint praise, before sticking in the knife. “Sen. Obama has done the country a great service in this 100 year comment,” Schmidt said, “because now the American people have the information they need to know that he is being dishonest.”
Obama has said that he plans to promptly begin to withdraw troops from Iraq, though he plans to leave a long-term strike force in the region. McCain has said he will continue to fight in Iraq with the current strategy until the country is stabilized and can control its own borders.
“What if it takes 100 years?” asked Fox News producer Mosheh Oinounou.
“It won’t,” Salter shot back.
OBAMA RESPONDS: Writes Bill Burton, Obama’s spokesman, in response: “What’s dishonest is the McCain campaign’s attempt to distract people from the fact that John McCain believes that America should spend trillions of dollars on a permanent occupation of Iraq that the Iraqis don’t want and that won’t keep the American people safe. Barack Obama opposed this war from the start and will end it when he becomes President.”
SCHMIDT RESPONDS TO RESPONSE: Upon leaving the Air McCain plane, Schmidt read the Burton statement, and said the following, “Barack Obama promised this country a different kind of politician, one that elevates public discourse. . . . He has a chance to put actions above his [words]. He should take it. He should stop being dishonest about his attacks.”
SCHERER CALLS FOR TRUCE: Until tomorrow, at least, he will not post any more tit-for-tat statements.