In an op-ed, Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt, renown for putting his newspaper behind the Bush administration’s plans to invade Iraq, gently chides John McCain for running an ugly campaign against Barack Obama. But Hiatt lets McCain off the hook by insinuating that he was driven to do so by Obama’s equally reprehensible tactics. Hiatt writes, “I'm sure, in the crazed intensity of a presidential campaign, it's easy to start believing your consultants and television ads--believing that the other guy is dangerous and that only you can save the country. That must be especially true when the other guy is insulting you. The mud flies both ways in this campaign, with Obama and his allies relentlessly pounding McCain as out of touch, erratic, dishonest and, over and over again, dishonorable.”


There are two points to be made about this attempt to exonerate McCain. First, Hiatt spends the first half of his column describing what McCain himself was doing--for instance, “McCain was angrily …”. He isn’t claiming to describe what McCain’s campaign and certainly not what “McCain and his allies” were doing. If he had been doing the latter, he could have included people like Sean Hannity and Andy Martin.  But when he claims that McCain was provoked into doing these ads, he is suddenly talking about “Obama and his allies relentless pounding.” That, I have to say, is a dishonest rhetorical tactic.


Secondly, if you look at what Obama or the Obama campaign (not what Obama’s “allies”) has said, it is very hard to make the case that they have been pounding McCain “over and over again” for being “dishonorable.” I could find one instance that remotely fit this. It is when the Obama campaign ran an ad a month ago calling McCain’s ads accusing Obama of endorsing sex education for kindergarteners evidence of a “disgraceful, dishonorable campaign.” Obama and the campaign did not say McCain was dishonorable. In fact, Obama has always gone out of the way to praise McCain’s person. And what the ad said about the campaign ad was, as far as I can tell, entirely merited. So what is Hiatt trying to do other than establish some kind of phony moral equivalence?


--John B. Judis