Poor John McCain: Forced Against His Honor to Run an Ugly Campaign

Time's Ana Marie Cox, in a Bloggingheads discussion
with Ann Althouse, does an excellent job of expressing what is still,
amazingly enough, the prevailing media view of John McCain: namely,
that this deeply honorable and principled man is vehemently opposed to
running an ugly, dirty campaign against Barack Obama, and that is
happening despite McCain's deep opposition to such campaigns and the
way it profoundly violates his code of honor.

Time's Ana Marie Cox, in a Bloggingheads discussion
with Ann Althouse, does an excellent job of expressing what is still,
amazingly enough, the prevailing media view of John McCain: namely,
that this deeply honorable and principled man is vehemently opposed to
running an ugly, dirty campaign against Barack Obama, and that is
happening despite McCain's deep opposition to such campaigns and the
way it profoundly violates his code of honor. Cox, who is traveling
with the McCain campaign (yet again), first shared a few memories and
sentiments about her experiences with the candidate over the years:

When I got on the plane the other day, McCain said hi to me. . . .

When
he had that conflict with that crowd in Minneapolis, or Lakeview, that
really energized him. Going on offense against his own voters and
supporters in this weird way made him more energetic. . . .

Some of the happiest times I had with John McCain are when everyone counted him out.

When
asked by Althouse (who, fairness compels me to acknowledge, was
surprisingly reasonable here) about the "Obama-is-a-Terrorist" tactics
the McCain campaign has been using and whether some of those tactics
attempt to stoke nationalistic or racist sentiments, Cox repeatedly
contended that such tactics are deeply anathema to the noble spirit and
elevated soul of John McCain:

Cox:
What McCain's reacting to, is something that other Republicans are
reacting to, iscu the kind of ugliness of the criticisms [towards]
Obama. I think McCain in his heart of heart wants to win this fair and
square. He wants to win this because he's the better candidate. He
doesn't want to win this because people think Obama is a Muslim or is a
terrorist or he's not really American. He wants to win this on his own
merits. It upsets his sense of fair play -- to win -- to think
that the support he's getting is because of what he thinks are bad
reasons.
. .

Althouse: But in the last month or so, he's been losing ground, and resorting to this terrorist meme --

Cox: I think that hasn't worked for them. I think they recognize that to the extent that that does work, that's not how McCain wants to win.

I
adore the guy. I think he's fantastic in many ways. I respect him, I
admire his service to the country. I think ultimately he's very
principled and, to coin a phrase, honorable. . . .

I do
think that McCain is one of the most unique individuals that I've ever
personally met. As I said, I greatly admire him and think he's sort of
an amazing person . . .

[The McCain campaign], not out of malice or intent, didn't allow themselves to think through how some of these images would be taken by their audience.

McCain has spent weeks overtly linking Obama to "terrorists" and "Palestinian donors" and
posing the sinister question: "Who is the real Barack Obama"? Right
this very minute, the McCain/Palin campaign is running massive robocalls in numerous battleground states,
including North Carolina, alleging that Obama "has worked closely with
domestic terrorist Bill Ayers, whose organization bombed the U.S.
Capitol, the Pentagon, a judge's home, and killed Americans" and, if
elected, "will enact an extreme leftist agenda." Last night on
national television, McCain vehemently defended Sarah Palin's repellent and patently false accusation that Obama "is pallin' around with terrorists."

But
McCain's vaunted principles and honor make him absolutely hate these
tactics and he vehemently does not want to win this way. "It upsets
his sense of fair play to think that the support he's getting is
because of what he thinks are bad reasons." It just keeps happening
despite McCain.

And what of the fact that these ads and
accusations have spawned the widespread, hateful perception among
the GOP base that Obama is a foreign, Muslim, un-American,
subversive-Black-Terrorist? Why, the naive and innocent strategists
running the McCain campaign had absolutely no idea that such a thing
would happen. They just failed "to think through how some of these
images would be taken by their audience" -- but "not out of malice or
intent" (probably just due to time constraints; they've been really
busy lately and didn't have time to contemplate what perceptions their
attacks would unwittingly spawn).

It's not a coincidence that the
hardest-hitting interviews of McCain have been conducted by everyone
except the national press corps that follows him. Last night,
David Letterman -- the comic -- grilled McCain about his relationship with convicted felon and post-Watergate extremist
G. Gordon Liddy after McCain claimed that Obama associates with
terrorists, the first time (to my knowledge) McCain has been asked
about his friendship with Liddy despite its being written about for months. And the toughest and most adversarial interviews of McCain came from the hosts of The View and from a reporter on a local news station in Maine (here).

The
national press corps continues to revere John McCain despite what is
widely acknowledged to be the toxic and ugly campaign he's running
because they still think that this campaign is being run despite McCain's character and wishes, not because
of them. The idea that someone should be judged by their actual
conduct never seems to occur to them, nor do they accept what ought to
be the rather self-evident proposition that someone who repeatedly does
dishonorable things is, by definition, dishonorable. By their fruits ye shall know them. Or, as former/long-time McCain-lover Andrew Sullivan put it:

I'm afraid that [Atlantic
Editor] Jim [Fallows] is dealing with what we're all dealing with: the
fact that the myth we had of McCain is, in fact, a lie. The real McCain
- dishonest, dishonorable and despicable - is now in plain sight. To
say I'm disillusioned would be an understatement. The last six weeks
have shown us all something we'd rather never have found out. But we
can't ignore it now, can we?

Some obviously can -- and are.

Cox
does say that she doesn't intend to vote for McCain because the way he
has run his campaign demonstrates that he's too scattershot and
"erratic" (a word that Cox, fairly enough, accuses the Obama campaign of using as "code for senile"). But in explaining that, this is what Cox says:

As
I said, I greatly admire him and think he's sort of an amazing person
but that doesn't meant I want him to have control of my country's
future in his hands. . . . I don't particularly want my commander-in-chief to have that whimsical attitude towards government.

If
I could be granted one small wish about our political discourse, it
would be that reporters and pundits would accept -- as disappointing
and unglorious as it is -- that, under our Constitution and basic
government design, people who aren't in the military don't have a
"Commander-in-Chief." The President isn't your "commander," and the
"Commander-in-Chief" power, now synonymous in our political culture
with "President," is actually extremely limited (Art. II, Sec. 2: "The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States").

This
endless festishization of "President as Our Commander-in-Chief" is one
of those small but pernicious reflections of how militarized we've
become, of how we are a society in a state of perpetual and endless
war. And -- though I don't think there's a strong complaint to be made
that the media generally has been unfair to Barack Obama -- this
"Commander-in-Chief" fetish is also one of the principal causes of the
ongoing media reverence for John S. McCain.

UPDATE: I'll
be on Rachel Maddow's radio show tonight, at a time to be
determined (will post it once I know it), talking about the McCain
campaign and the Palin effect. Live audio feed and local listings are here.

UPDATE II: Here's another long-time/former McCain-admirer -- Time's Joe Klein -- today writing about "Senator Honorable in the Sewer,"
noting McCain's ongoing reliance on tactics that were previously used
by the Bush apparatus against McCain and which McCain -- back then --
endlessly decried.