Friday, May 16, 2008

How Many Times Can You Jump the Shark?

President Bush never mentioned Barack Obama’s name in his address to the Knesset, and the White House was quick to point out that the president wasn’t talking about him when he basically slandered him. How cute.

John McCain, however, wasn’t so coy, and he basically said that the president was right and that Barack Obama — and he used his name — wasn’t fit to be commander in chief. After the last eight years, hearing the Republicans set the standards for competence for anything raises the concept of chutzpah to stratospheric, even mystical, levels.

I think Joe Biden put it best: bullshit.

And yet, as James Rubin points out, Mr. McCain’s hypocrisy on the issue and whether or not we should talk to groups like Hamas, stinks like an overflowing cat box.

If the recent exchanges between President Bush, Barack Obama and John McCain on Hamas and terrorism are a preview of the general election, we are in for an ugly six months. Despite his reputation in the media as a charming maverick, McCain has shown that he is also happy to use Nixon-style dirty campaign tactics. By charging recently that Hamas is rooting for an Obama victory, McCain tried to use guilt by association to suggest that Obama is weak on national security and won’t stand up to terrorist organizations, or that, as Richard Nixon might have put it, Obama is soft on Israel.


McCain is the last politician who should be attacking Obama. Two years ago, just after Hamas won the Palestinian parliamentary elections, I interviewed McCain for the British network Sky News’s “World News Tonight” program. Here is the crucial part of our exchange:

I asked: “Do you think that American diplomats should be operating the way they have in the past, working with the Palestinian government if Hamas is now in charge?”

McCain answered: “They’re the government; sooner or later we are going to have to deal with them, one way or another, and I understand why this administration and previous administrations had such antipathy towards Hamas because of their dedication to violence and the things that they not only espouse but practice, so . . . but it’s a new reality in the Middle East. I think the lesson is people want security and a decent life and decent future, that they want democracy. Fatah was not giving them that.”

For some Europeans in Davos, Switzerland, where the interview took place, that’s a perfectly reasonable answer. But it is an unusual if not unique response for an American politician from either party. And it is most certainly not how the newly conservative presumptive Republican nominee would reply today.

Given that exchange, the new John McCain might say that Hamas should be rooting for the old John McCain to win the presidential election. The old John McCain, it appears, was ready to do business with a Hamas-led government, while both Clinton and Obama have said that Hamas must change its policies toward Israel and terrorism before it can have diplomatic relations with the United States.

If Mr. Rubin thinks this is the sign of things to come, he’s in for a shock. This is just the beginning, and it will only get worse. If there’s any glimmer of hope, though, it is that the Democrats have been swift and sure-footed in their responses, and even the pundits aren’t letting the righties get away with their bullshit.

What’s going to happen is that the outrages are going to continue, and most likely they’re going to be coming from the GOP because they are the ones who are in deep, deep trouble: they have nothing to run on. Isn’t it ironic that after telling us for the last eight years that George W. Bush is the greatest president since Ronald Reagan and that his legacy will live on for generations (ironically, that’s probably all too true); now all of a sudden John McCain and the RNC are doing everything they can to say that a McCain administration won’t be a Bush third term. This head-spinning course correction is to be expected, of course; desperation makes for some flaming hypocrisy and dependence on short-term memory failure on the part of the electorate. Ah, but that’s what Google is for. So the shark-jumping will continue; bring your own popcorn. At some point we might even get back to talking about things like the economy, health care, and education.