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A Noun, A Verb, And Those Ten Town-hall Meetings

Back in August, no less of an authority than Maureen Dowd declared that John McCain had officially maxed out his POW card. The column-length overdraft statement followed a comical month when McCain surrogates used the Senator's war record to rebut an array of unrelated charges about cone-of-silence violations, real-estate forgetfulness,  and ABBA-listening. And--who says he's out  of touch?--the number of Hanoi Hilton references soon dwindled.

The campaign's search for excuses to justify various forms of bad behavior, though, did not. The new universal explanation for McCain misdeeds? Barack Obama's refusal of McCain's town-hall meeting plan. All those polarizing convention speeches that dissed Obama's service as a community organizer? "I think the tone of this whole campaign would have been very different if Senator Obama had accepted my request for us to appear in town hall meetings all over America," McCain said at Columbia University's service forum on September 11. McCain's possible absence from tonite's presidential debate? "I also wish Senator Obama had agreed to 10 or more town hall meetings that I had asked him to attend with me," he told Charles Gibson last night. "Wouldn't be quite that much urgency if he agreed to do that, instead he refused to do it."

I happen to think Obama was wrong, on both moral and political terms, not to take up McCain's offer. The precedent of weekly candidate chats would certainly have been good for the country, and probably would have been good for Obama's campaign, too. But every time McCain offers his good-citizen proposal as an excuse for bad-citizen behavior, I get a little less sympathetic. Consider this another credit warning.

--Michael Schaffer