The ploy has not changed, only the characters and the level of purported dismay after the fact have. On Monday, presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain conjured up his most aggrieved expressions, acting chagrined in the wake of yet another jarring comment from his top adviser, Charlie Black, long known for promoting the politics of fear mongering.
Reportedly making an off-the-cuff, unrehearsed comment, Mr. Black stated that a terrorist attack against the United States would be to the advantage of the Republican Party and, in particular, would bolster Mr. McCain's White House aspirations. On a previous occasion, Mr. Black had noted that Americans' concerns over domestic terrorist attacks had kept the Republican Party vibrant despite critical Party policy short-comings elsewhere.
Informed of Mr. Black's remarks, Mr. McCain did his level best to sound dismayed. "I cannot even imagine what he had in mind in saying such a thing," Mr. McCain replied. "I completely disagree with that sentiment."
For his part, Mr. Black acted apologetic and stated that he regretted his comments and should not have made them.
Lest anyone be fooled, however, there is nothing but pure calculation both behind Mr. Black's statements and Mr. McCain's remarks. Mr. Black, following the tried and true Republican formula of creating an issue and bandying it about for public consumption, acted no differently in this case. Realizing that Americans had become calloused to the Bush Administration's repeated efforts to use terrorist threat level warnings for political leverage, Mr. Black changed tactics ever so slightly this time around, merely putting out the prospect of a future attack and using that prospect to cloak presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama in the fallout.
Mr. McCain, too, followed script, acting the innocent despite the fact that Mr. Black, his top adviser, is widely known for such political gamesmanship--the benefit and harms to the public be damned. Nowhere in his response to Mr. Black's statement did Mr. McCain challenge the underlying attack that Mr. Black's statement made against the Democrats' ability to respond to terrorist threats. And therein lies the rub.
Like the White House's current attacks against former Bush Press Secretary Scott McClellan's accusations that the Bush Administration sold the American public a bill of goods in an attempt to rush the United States into an unnecessary war in Iraq, Mr. McCain is not attacking the message, but is, instead, attacking the messenger--or at least the messenger's logic in making such statements.
The difference in the two scenarios, however, could not be more dramatic. In Mr. McClellan's case, attacking the messenger comes off as sophomoric. In Mr. Black's case, Mr. McCain's toothless, coddling response comes off as supportive of a message that Mr. McCain has enunciated in different form at every stop of his campaign against Mr. Obama.
While a segment of the American public will forever cave to the politics of fear, Republicans might well discover, albeit too late, that the majority of voting Americans have grown weary of the Republican boogeyman.
Up Next: All Over the Map.