They Jump, But How High Above the Fray?

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At his Pennsylvania press conference today, McCain said that the Wesley Clark comment yesterday was “not an isolated incident.” “If that is the kind of campaign that Obama and his supporters and surrogates want to wage, I understand that,” McCain said, before adding that he would rather talk about issues like gas prices and the economy.

More than anything else, this charge reminds me of the discussions we were having a few months back about whether or not McCain would run a “respectful” campaign, as he had pledged. Of course, lots of disrespectful stuff kept happening around McCain. The campaign sent out a slimy hit-piece speculating on Obama’s supposed secret “radical record.” (The campaign said it made a mistake.) A low-level aide Twitter’d an even more slimy Youtube video with Obama images shown next to a black power salute. (The aide was suspended.) The North Carolina Republican Party aired a shady ad about Obama. (McCain condemned it, though he attacked Obama for his ties to William Ayers, of Weather Underground fame.)

Now the shoe is on Obama’s foot. He has clearly stated that McCain’s military service and his patriotism will not be an issue in this campaign. But the Clark comment, which was rebuked by the Obama campaign, is not the only example of an Obama supporter dinging the value of McCain’s record as a pilot as a credential for the White House.

Back in April, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.V., said, “McCain was a fighter pilot, who dropped laser-guided missiles from 35,000 feet. He was long gone when they hit. . . . You have to care about the lives of people. McCain never gets into those issues.” (Obama distanced himself, and Rockefeller apologized.) In May, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Ia., more gently questioned McCain’s worldview, coming awfully close to saying that military service could be a bad thing: “Everything is looked at from his life experiences, from always having been in the military, and I think that can be pretty dangerous.”

And then you have the left-leaning media, which can stray rather perilously into the territory of blaming McCain for his actions while being tortured by the North Vietnamese. Politico’s Ben Smith does a pretty good rundown of this here.

So is the Obama campaign conducting a secret effort to smear McCain’s military service? Some conservatives think so. Is McCain secretly exploiting underhanded attacks on Obama? Some liberals think so.

I’m still waiting to find out, and I expect we won’t know for sure until after the conventions. But we do have the candidates on record opposing this stuff. And the world is watching.