McCain Campaign Walks A Fine Line On Obama Attacks

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Three weeks ago, John McCain took a strong public stand against those of his allies who would attack Barack Obama for his middle name. “I want to disassociate myself with any disparaging remarks,” McCain told the press, after a radio talk show host distastefully used Obama’s middle name Hussein.

Then this week, McCain’s campaign manager, Rick Davis, wrote a memo to supporters asking them to cool the “overheated rhetoric and personal attacks” on the Democrats. “We expect that all supporters, surrogates and staff will hold themselves to similarly high standards when they are representing the campaign,” Davis wrote.

If anything else, this seemed to be a reference to the recent rantings of Iowa Rep. Steve King, a Republican, who is going around saying that if Obama wins the White House then radical Islamists will be “dancing in the streets because of his middle name.” Never mind that there is no love lost between King, who wants to deport all illegal immigrants, and McCain, who wants to provide a path to citizenship for most of them. The McCain campaign continues to say that it wants to keep the general election debate respectful and dignified. It is an honorable posture.

But by raising the bar, the McCain campaign subjects itself to greater scrutiny. So it is notable, as Jon Martin and Teddy Davis have already pointed out, that the campaign included an opinion piece from the Wall Street Journal in its packet of morning news clips emailed to reporters.

The article, by Ron Kessler, the editor of the right-wing NewsMax, is a withering (second-degree) attack on Obama for his relationship to the minister Jeremiah Wright. As has been reported before, Wright has criticized America as “the #1 killer in the world,” said the U.S. supported Zionism “shamelessly” and offered praise for Louis Farrakhan. Obama has already distanced himself from these comments and denounced Farrakhan. But Kessler implies nonetheless that Obama is fundamentally tainted person with a “radical record” who is concealing his nefarious beliefs, thanks to a lack of press scrutiny.

Kessler writes:

Mr. Obama obviously would not choose to belong to Mr. Wright’s church and seek his advice unless he agreed with at least some of his views. In light of Mr. Wright’s perspective, Michelle Obama’s comment that she feels proud of America for the first time in her adult life makes perfect sense. Much as most of us would appreciate the symbolism of a black man ascending to the presidency, what we have in Barack Obama is a politician whose closeness to Mr. Wright underscores his radical record.

So the question is this: Does the McCain campaign think Kessler’s article fits into the high standards which it has established? Or did someone on McCain’s staff make an unsupervised mistake at dawn by including this article in an official release?

Time will most certainly tell.

UPDATE: An aide to McCain says, “It was an error.” See here.