Leaning too hard on the magic words?

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Rick Horowitz
August 19, 2008

So John McCain slipped the cone of silence—no big surprise. What I want to know is: Whatever happened to the cylinder of civility?

And for that matter, who brought the cube of contempt?

Or am I just being finicky?

The campaign forecast: Nasty today, turning completely nasty tomorrow. And the long-range forecast? Even worse than that.

But first, back to the cone.

No—not whether McCain actually broke the rules at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church, or simply gave them a little elbow to the ribs. I’ll let Team McCain and Team Obama argue that one out—along with full-volume discussions of precisely what it means, and doesn’t mean, to have “no broadcast feed” of your opponent’s questions and answers. (E.g., What about cell phones? What about Blackberrys? What about an adviser listening on your behalf and passing along key bits of information before you take the stage yourself? And so on. And so on.)

That’s not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about one particular part of Team McCain’s pushback when word first surfaced that their candidate’s pre-interview “isolation” might not have been quite as total as advertised. Listen to this:

“The insinuation from the Obama campaign that John McCain, a former prisoner of war, cheated is outrageous.”

Anything in there jump out at you?

(That was from Nicolle Wallace, by the way—a McCain spokeswoman.)

Still trying to decide? Well, how about those five words in the middle?

“…a former prisoner of war.”

Talk about a non sequitur! What exactly does the fact that John McCain was a prisoner of war in Hanoi some 30-odd years ago have to do with the suspicion that he might have colored outside the lines last weekend in California?

Would it have been any stranger if Nicolle Wallace had said, “The insinuation from the Obama campaign that John McCain, who is 5-foot-9, cheated is outrageous”?

Unless, of course, his former POW status is supposed to serve as an all-purpose “Get Out of Trouble” card today.

As incantations go—magic words to ward off dangerous forces—I’ve seen worse. But really now…

Call him brave, and you’ll get no argument from me. Call him determined. Call him amazingly resilient.

But what’s honesty got to do with it?

Does being imprisoned somehow transform John McCain into a moral paragon, above all reproach, above all suspicion?

I don’t see why. Even John McCain has admitted—in fact, he admitted it again to Rick Warren on Saturday evening—that he’s not a perfect person, that he’s had his share of moral lapses.

So why is it supposed to be inconceivable—literally beyond imagining—that he might have had another one on the way to that stage at Saddleback? That love of country, or overzealous campaign aides, or ambition, or..,

Pick your poison.

That, for whatever reason, he might have engaged in some advantageous communication when he wasn’t supposed to?

One last thing: It was a minor moment—almost a throwaway—in John McCain’s oft-told tale about Christmas in bondage and the cross drawn in the sand by a sympathetic guard.

“Because it was Christmas Day,” John McCain was saying to Rick Warren, “we were allowed to stand outside of our cell for a few minutes. And those days, we were not allowed to see or communicate with each other, although we certainly did.”

Although they certainly did.

Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist. You can write to him at rickhoro@execpc.com.

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