Failing in Civility

Saturday, July 26, 2008

POLITICIANS SAY a lot of things in the heat of campaigns that they end up regretting -- or ought to regret. Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, had one of those unfortunate moments the other day, when he charged that his Democratic opponent, Sen. Barack Obama, "would rather lose the war to win a political campaign."

Having said this once, been criticized and had a chance to think it over, Mr. McCain chose to repeat it. "He would rather lose a war than lose a campaign," Mr. McCain told the Columbus Dispatch. "Because anyone who fails to acknowledge that the surge has worked, who has consistently opposed it, consistently never sat down and had a briefing with General Petraeus, our commander there, would rather lose a war than a political campaign."

Mr. McCain's disagreement with Mr. Obama is as heartfelt as it is important. We, too, have concerns about the dangerous implications of Mr. Obama's insistence on withdrawing combat troops from Iraq within 16 months regardless of conditions there. We, too, fault Mr. Obama's unwillingness to acknowledge his mistake in predicting that the surge would fail. But Mr. McCain needn't impute motives to make his points. It's one thing to say Mr. Obama is wrong. It's another to accuse him of putting political self-interest over country. This is not the "politics of civility" that Mr. McCain was promising as recently as last month.

"What a welcome change it would be were presidential candidates in our time to treat each other and the people they seek to lead with respect and courtesy as they discussed the great issues of the day," Mr. McCain wrote in a letter to Mr. Obama proposing weekly town hall meetings. With these latest comments, Mr. McCain falls short of the standards he set out.

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