Are We Clear?

by digby

If John McCain goes ballistic every time he's mildly criticized by Barack Obama, this is going to be a much more interesting campaign than I thought. Yesterday Obama said this:

I respect Sen. John McCain's service to our country. He is one of those heroes of which I speak. But I can't understand why he would line up behind the president in his opposition to this GI bill. I can't believe why he believes it is too generous to our veterans. I could not disagree with him and the president more on this issue. There are many issues that lend themselves to partisan posturing, but giving our veterans the chance to go to college should not be one of them.

Wow, that was shockingly below the belt, don't you think? No? Well, McCain apparently did:

It is typical, but no less offensive that Senator Obama uses the Senate floor to take cheap shots at an opponent and easy advantage of an issue he has less than zero understanding of. Let me say first in response to Senator Obama, running for President is different than serving as President. The office comes with responsibilities so serious that the occupant can't always take the politically easy route without hurting the country he is sworn to defend. Unlike Senator Obama, my admiration, respect and deep gratitude for America's veterans is something more than a convenient campaign pledge. I think I have earned the right to make that claim...

I know that my friend and fellow veteran, Senator Jim Webb, an honorable man who takes his responsibility to veterans very seriously, has offered legislation with very generous benefits. I respect and admire his position, and I would never suggest that he has anything other than the best of intentions to honor the service of deserving veterans. Both Senator Webb and I are united in our deep appreciation for the men and women who risk their lives so that the rest of us may be secure in our freedom. And I take a backseat to no one in my affection, respect and devotion to veterans. And I will not accept from Senator Obama, who did not feel it was his responsibility to serve our country in uniform, any lectures on my regard for those who did...

Perhaps, if Senator Obama would take the time and trouble to understand this issue he would learn to debate an honest disagreement respectfully. But, as he always does, he prefers impugning the motives of his opponent, and exploiting a thoughtful difference of opinion to advance his own ambitions. If that is how he would behave as President, the country would regret his election.

(He went on to say "You can't handle the truth! You fucked with wrong POW!")

It's well known that McCain has a temper. He is commonly despised by people he works with. But I don't agree with Kevin here that this is just an intemperate blast that shows he's too hot-headed to be president (although he certainly is.) It is to establish his dominance on military issues and the war. As much as he's a mean man for real, he is also a ruthless politician who is positioning himself as the older Alpha Dog against the "disrespectful" upstart. This is some primitive stuff unfolding here.

McCain is also playing rather crudely into the developing theme that Obama isn't patriotic or quite a "real American." You would think that it would be ridiculous to claim such a thing when Obama is voting for a GI Bill and McCain isn't, but when you really look at what McCain does in his statement (you can read it in full, here) he goes out of his way to juxtapose his family's long history in the US military with claims about Obama only supporting veterans out of political convenience. It's really quite insidious.

I have no doubt that McCain really was pissed off. But this statement is also a political document, vetted by the campaign, and they aren't idiots. They released it for a reason. We all think this makes McCain look like a crazed ho head and that people will reject him for it. But keep in mind that this kind of thing also plays into McCain's carefully crafted persona of being a "straight shooter" who doesn't calculate his every word for public consumption. Losing his cool is part of what a lot of people like about him. They see it as a sign of authenticity.

It's a rather audacious shot across the bow to Obama, who came back with a measured and reasonable response:

I am proud to stand with Senator Webb and a bipartisan coalition to give our veterans the support and opportunity they deserve. It's disappointing that Senator McCain and his campaign used this issue to launch yet another lengthy personal, political attack instead of debating an honest policy difference. He should know that this is not about John McCain or Barack Obama — it’s about giving our veterans a real chance to afford four years of college without harming retention. Senator Webb’s bipartisan bill will do this, and the bill that John McCain supports would not. These endless diatribes and schoolyard taunts from the McCain campaign do nothing to advance the debate about what matters to the American people

I find that convincing, of course. The idea of that macho freak McCain at the helm makes visions of Cheney and Rumselfeld dance in my head. But I don't honestly know if everyone sees it my way. This guy has made a career out of pretending that he answers to no authority and is afraid of no one. I'm not sure that there aren't quite a few people out there who see a man like that as the kind of president that's needed to bring real change to Washington. It fits into a certain archetypal groove. I'm not sure calling such comments "disappointing" is going to be enough over the long haul.

H/T to Mark Kleiman