McCain Watch Cont’d. . .

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Though I would not employ the same adjectives, I just wanted to endorse Joe’s comments on the apparently shifting tone of the McCain campaign. A couple months ago, I wrote with some admiration about the “high standards” that the campaign seemed to be adopting in dealing with partisan gunslingers. As campaign manager Rick Davis wrote in an email, “We expect that all supporters, surrogates and staff will hold themselves to similarly high standards when they are representing the campaign.” Back then, the radio talk show host who used Barack Obama’s middle name like a slur was condemned by McCain, and the staffer who sent out the smarmy Obama video on his Twitter was suspended, and the campaign said it was a mistake to send out the Wall Street Journal column attacking Obama for the comments of Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

Now we get, in the course of a couple weeks, a change of tone. Not only is Wright now a fair question, but the McCain campaign is going after Obama’s relationship to the Weather Underground’s William Ayers and using the words of a Hamas official to tar Obama. All this, even though McCain continues to say that he should not be held responsible for the views of everyone who endorses him. And he shouldn’t. No politician should.The McCain campaign did seek the John Hagee endorsement, which complicates his defense there, but in my perfect political world, we would judge our politicians by what they do and think, not by what people say about them, or what their friends do. Obama does not support Hamas, no matter what Hamas says. McCain does not think the Roman Church is the whore of Babylon, or whatever, no matter what Hagee says.

But this is all wishful thinking. All these “second-degree scandals” cut through news cycles like lasers. And all the campaigns and political parties clearly believe that such mini-scandals can help them at the polls. We can score who is worse on a day-to-day, or week-to-week basis, but as it stands, I think it is fair to say that McCain’s standards are not any better.

By the way, last week when I was out with the McCain campaign, I kept trying to make sense of why they thought it was okay to attack Obama for Ayers but not for Wright. As they explained it, the difference was not one of kind, but degree. Both men were friends of Obama–and there is no evidence that Obama shared their most controversial views–but as senior adviser Charlie Black told me, “Blowing up the Pentagon is more than bad taste.”

McCain himself made the distinction somewhat differently. He said that Wright had made clear that the soundbites from his sermons are not fully representative of his views. “Mr. Wright has said that those remarks don’t reflect his views,” McCain said on Thursday. “Mr. Ayers has proudly proclaimed the fact that he wished he had bombed more.” McCain also said he found it unbelievable that an American would attack his own country in a time of war. “Young Americans gave their lives in the Vietnam War fighting for something else,” he said. He said the Ayers issue would not go away until Obama called on Ayers to apologize for his actions. “He should call on him to apologize,” he said.

And so we get one of the many ways that the 2008 election will offer America another chance to refight the domestic struggles of the Vietnam War. And it probably won’t be any prettier than the last 25 times we did it.