In Michael Kinsley’s famous formulation, a gaffe is what happens when a politician says what he actually thinks is true. As the latest skirmish in the Outrage Wars shows, Kinsley’s formulation now applies to political strategists as well. When asked by Fortune Magazine how a terrorist attack on U.S. soil between now and the election might affect John McCain’s presidential campaign, Charlie Black, the veteran GOP consultant serving as a top McCain strategist, replied, “Certainly it would be a big advantage to him.”
Like you, I’m shocked — shocked! — that Black would say such a thing. Not, of course, because it’s untrue. But because it probably is true.* Black shouldn’t have said what he thought to be true, because by doing so he was speculating about the political implications of a terrible event that no decent person should hope for, and how that terrible event would benefit his candidate if it were to occur. As gaffes go, that’s a whopper. After it became big news yesterday, Black promptly apologized, McCain distanced himself from the comments and the Obama campaign expressed its utter outrage at the disgraceful things Black had said.
And so this morning, in an effort to milk the gaffe a little more, the Obama campaign served up Richard Ben-Veniste, the veteran Democratic lawyer and member of the 9/11 Commission, so that he, too, could express his outrage at “a candid and very disappointing glimpse into the thinking of one of Senator McCain’s closest advisers.”
Coming soon: an orgasm of outrage from the McCain camp the next time any Democrat with any connection to the Obama campaign expresses the opinion that, say, a spike in unemployment, a stock market crash or another jump in the price of oil would be beneficial to Obama’s chances of winning in November. After all, its accuracy notwithstanding, such a statement would demonstrate a callous disregard for the suffering of average Americans. Or, you know, something like that.
*I say “probably” because I’m not convinced that’s how such a thing would play out. But I’m sure Black is.