David Broder, Dean of the etc., etc., has a column today on the negative tone of the presidential campaign, in which he comes to the conclusion that both candidates are to blame--but the young, outsidery Democrat somewhat more so than the older, established Republican. Knock me over with a feather.

Broder manages the remarkable feat of writing on negativity in the campaign without once mentioning McCain's "troops" smear (which his own paper led the way in declaring untrue), any of his ads deriding Obama as a Paris-Hilton-like celebrity or self-imagined Messiah, or the GOP's hilarious tire-gauge antics. (Apart from that, Mrs. Lincoln....) The only actual attacks Broder cites are the charge that Obama was "playing the race card," and McCain's suggestion that Obama would be willing to lose a war in order to win an election. (Moreover, he backs into this latter attack, citing Obama's complaint about it rather than the smear itself.)

Broder spoke to both candidates for the column and basically framed it entirely in the terms offered by McCain, which should be no surprise given that those terms concerned that lifelong Broder obsession, process. The harsh tone of the campaign, McCain suggested, is not due to, say, decisions made by his campaign team to relentlessly skewer, distort, and belittle his opponent (decisions which have been widely second-guessed even by fellow Republicans); no, the harsh tone is due to Obama's refusal to appear in a series of 10 town-hall-style events. Of course!

But never fear, debates are on the way, and American politics will no doubt once again come to resemble a civics textbook. At least, that is, for commentators paying as little attention to the campaign as Broder.

Update: I belatedly see that Mike has already pointed out why, apart from the question of who's to blame for the recent nastiness, debates are unlikely to be the cure-all Broder imagines.

--Christopher Orr