McCain Triangulates

John McCain is in the midst of a “Time for Action Tour,” which could perhaps better be named his “Bash Bush and the Republicans Tour.” First came his demand that the North Carolina Republican Party withdraw its ad criticizing Barack Obama’s choice of Jeremiah Wright as a spiritual mentor. On NBC this morning, this is how McCain answered questions about the ad:

VIERA: The ad says Obama’s, quote, “just too extreme for North Carolina.”

Now, you have called this ad degrading, and you’ve asked the state party to pull it. But so far, they’ve refused to do that.

Why do you think they’re not listening to you? And why do you believe they would continue to raise questions about Senator Obama’s patriotism?

MCCAIN: They’re not listening to me because they’re out of touch with reality in the Republican Party. We are the party of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, and this kind of campaigning is unacceptable. I have said that. It will harm the Republicans’ cause.

It is, however, McCain who is out of touch with reality if he thinks a Presidential candidate’s closest personal and ideological associations are somehow off limits to scrutiny.

Next, McCain took up Bush-bashing. Touring New Orleans, he repeated the Democrats’ view of Hurricane Katrina as, pre-eminently, a story of Bush administration incompetence. On ABC this morning, Chris Cuomo, of all people, asked McCain about his attack on President Bush:

Chris CUOMO: John McCain is taking direct aim at the Bush administration. The senator toured New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward as part of his “forgotten places” tour and sharply criticized the response to Hurricane Katrina, calling it disgraceful. He said the leadership failure after the disaster could be traced straight to the top, and he told our Claire Shipman it would not have happened on his watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCAIN: I’ve come here and told these people, “Never again. Never again will a disaster, either natural or manmade, be mishandled in this fashion.”

It may be that the Hurricane Katrina mythology is so irrevocably fixed that McCain loses little by subscribing to it. More troubling is his willingness to bash the Bush administration’s economic record, contrary to his own prior, more reasonable, statements. Once again, from NBC:

VIERA: You know, Senator, the DNC also began running an ad this week that questions your judgment when it comes to the economy.
They’re beating up on you, sir.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)MCCAIN: We have had a pretty good, prosperous time with low unemployment, low inflation. I think we are better off, overall.(END VIDEO CLIP)

VIERA: We’re hearing that the same week that gas prices are inching up to $4 a gallon, food prices through the roof. We’re seeing rice now being rationed. So, how is the average American to believe that we are better off?

MCCAIN: Well, I’ve said repeatedly American families are hurting in America. We’re in a recession. I have plan of action and change. And it’s not increases in taxes, which is — which Senator Obama and Senator Clinton want.

VIERA: So, Senator, you do not believe we are better off, by any means, than we were eight years ago?

MCCAIN: Oh, no. No.

The fact is that, as McCain has said, we have enjoyed “a pretty good, prosperous time” during the Bush administration, with low unemployment and low inflation. While the economy is troubled at the moment, it is indeed better off, following a period of sustained growth in GDP and real compensation, than it was eight years ago, when the dot-com bubble was bursting.

It’s one thing for McCain to think that he needs to distance himself from the Bush administration, but if he thinks he can win by attacking his own party and out-Bush-bashing the Democrats, he is sadly mistaken.

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