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Fear and Loathing

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By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 25, 2008; 10:12 AM

Was Charlie Black right?

Did he simply commit the political sin of saying something that is unspeakably true?

And how could such an old pro, whose campaign experience dates back to the Reagan era, make such a blunder? Or was it not such a blunder after all?

As I noted yesterday, Black, who is John McCain's top political gunslinger, told Fortune that the Benazir Bhutto assassination helped his man by focusing the debate on foreign policy, and if America should be hit by another terrorist attack, "certainly it would be a big advantage to him."

Let's just say that conjuring up the specter of mass murder as being helpful to a presidential candidate doesn't strike the most uplifting tone. It sounds uncomfortably close to wishing that one would come along and knock some sense into the voters. That's why Black apologized and McCain did the disavowal thing.

But if there was such an attack, might it not remind people that McCain's pal George W. Bush had spent five years fighting in Iraq rather than capturing Osama bin Laden? Might it not suggest that the Republicans hadn't kept the country safe after 9/11?

Or would it arouse a desire for a commander-in-chief with military experience, rather than one four years removed from the Illinois legislature? There's obviously something to that.

The most Machiavellian interpretation would be that Black put this out there, knowing there would be some blowback, as a way of stirring up the debate, knowing full well he'd have to fall on his sword. I doubt that's what happened, but stranger things have happened in politics.

The blogosphere is pretty hepped up about this. Time's Michael Scherer wonders whether this was truly a mistake:

"McCain likes to say he would rather lose an election than lose a war. To this, I guess his campaign is now awkwardly adding that he would rather lose an election than have terrorists succeed in another attack. The sad part is that now we are having this conversation. We can look forward to days of cable news chatter over the issue, and meta-chatter about who benefits from the chatter. Is it a dark Atwaterian/Rovian ploy or another embarrassing McCain campaign stumble?"

At the New Republic, Michael Crowley questions whether GOPers still have a terror card to play:

"It wasn't so long ago that Democrats hesitated even to accuse Republicans of using security-related scare tactics, lest they seem whiny and weak. Now John McCain feels the need to distance himself from one of his own aides, who was only responding to a press question. Not that that's an excuse. (Actually, McCain's statement is doubly odd--he answered as though Black had implied McCain was somehow encouraging an attack, which was not at all his point . . . )


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