Commentary Magazine


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Why Is McCain Pleased?

“In all the uproar, no one has challenged what we actually reported.” That howler was part of a statement issued yestersday by New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller. It would be true, if you did not include John McCain, his lawyer, his aides, his surrogates, the woman in question, and a large percentage of the media. The Page neatly summarized where things stood less than 24 hours after the story broke: “Paper of Record has worse day in the media than the subject of its Thursday scoop.” As a political matter, it turned some of his harshest critics into his defenders, and given Mike Huckabee’s wise move to defend McCain, the episode has hastened his reconcilliation with the Republican base.

Aside from his Chuchillian brush with the Times (“There is no greater exhilaration than being shot at without result”), McCain must have been very happy last night. The Democratic debate suggested a number of fruitful avenues for him to explore in the general election. On many points which Hillary Clinton did not or could not engage Barack Obama, McCain can and will. On earmarks, Obama will be hard pressed to grab the mantle of fiscal cheapstake from McCain. On Iraq, Obama’s curious concession that the reduced violence is a mere “tactical” victory will, of course, be met with query as to why we would retreat after both military and some political success. On Cuba, the Florida voters in particular will be interested in this response as to whether Obama would meet with Raul Castro:

I would meet without preconditions, although Senator Clinton is right that there has to be preparation. It is very important for us to make sure that there was an agenda and on that agenda was human rights, releasing of political prisoners, opening up the press. And that preparation might take some time. . . And then I think it is important for us to have the direct contact not just in Cuba, but I think this principle applies generally. I’m — I recall what John F. Kennedy once said, that we should never negotiate out of fear, but we should never fear to negotiate. And this moment, this opportunity when Fidel Castro has finally stepped down I think is one that we should try to take advantage of.

And I suspect that McCain will do even better than Clinton on the “describe the moment that tested you the most, that moment of crisis” question.