July 17, 2008

Two weeks ago, the misguided ideologues at the Wall Street Journal editorial page offered a novel argument: it’s Barack Obama, not John McCain, who’s actually “running for … Bush’s third term.”

It was unusually dumb, even for the WSJ editorial page, and was premised on a series of bizarre lies and distortions. Even unhinged conservatives were reluctant to run with it, and the incoherent talking point quickly faded.

Today, the McCain campaign brought it back.

The McCain campaign is taking their effort to distance their candidate from the unpopular President Bush to a whole new level: McCain’s advisers are now openly attacking Bush on Iraq — and not only that, they’re also saying that Barack Obama is the one who is like Bush on the war!

On a conference call just now with reporters, McCain foreign policy adviser Randy Scheunemann compared Barack Obama’s insistence on a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq to Bush’s insistence that we were winning even as things went badly for years.

“I think the American people have had enough of inflexibility and stubbornness in national security policy,” Scheunemann said. When asked later by the Huffington Post’s Sam Stein whether the campaign was disparaging President Bush, Scheunemann dug in: “We cannot afford to replace one administration that refused for too long to acknowledge failure in Iraq with a candidate that refuses to acknowledge success in Iraq.”

That’s quite a triangulation strategy, isn’t it? The new line is that McCain sees both Bush and Obama as stubborn.

Let’s take this one step at a time.

First, it’s probably safe to assume the McCain campaign’s internal polls show McCain getting hammered on the “Bush’s third term” line of criticism. They’re so desperate, McCain’s aides are now trying to argue that Obama is just like Bush. This is just so pathetic, I almost feel sorry for the McCain campaign

Second, it’s fascinating to hear the McCain team triangulate off of Bush’s refusal “to acknowledge failure in Iraq.” Um, guys? McCain was the one cheering Bush on while he was “failing,” telling Americans we had to “stay the course.”

Third, let’s also note the irony of this claptrap coming from Randy Scheunemann. As David Kurtz noted, “Scheunemann was, of course, a significant proponent of the Iraq invasion and as Josh noted the other day worked closely with Ahmad Chalabi and the other usual suspects in pushing the U.S. toward war with Iraq.”

But perhaps most importantly, I can’t help but laugh at the notion that McCain is supposed to be the sensible, flexible one in this equation. Is McCain open to a withdrawal timeline? No. Is he open to a phased redeployment? No. Has he ever visited Iraq thinking, “I’m perfectly open to changing my mind about whether to support the president’s policy”? Of course not; he’s traveled to Baghdad with his mind made up in advance.

McCain is committed to continuing Bush’s policy indefinitely. He gladly concedes that he won’t change his mind, won’t waffle, and won’t do anything differently. McCain’s mind is made up.

Now, McCain is certainly entitled to this position. I think it’s dangerous and foolish, but that’s just me. But where does the McCain get off arguing that Obama is “inflexible” and “stubborn”? Weren’t these the same guys who were arguing last week that Obama is all over the place, and he’s too flexible and not stubborn enough?

The entire McCain operation is just a joke. I shudder to think that these guys would be like running the country, though I think the last eight years offer a pretty big clue.

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