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Steve Waldman notices something:

Saying that Republicans are taking Obama's comments out of context doesn't come close to capturing this. What Obama probably meant is pretty much the opposite of what they're implying he meant.

I realize that I'd lost the outrage at this kind of thing, and had come to expect it.

Here's why all this matters.

A critical part of what's gone wrong these past few years has been the tendency of a war president to bully opponents, distort their meaning, use base emotional appeals when we need far more rational discussion about how to counter a very complex, terrifying Islamist threat. The kind of campaigns Rove ran in 2002, 2004 and 2006 made all this far harder. It reduced important debates about priorities in the war, detention and interrogation policies, the wisdom of long-term enmeshment in the Middle East, the difficulties of securing loose nukes, the excruciatingly difficult calls on which allies to trust and how - into dumb-ass contests about who is the biggest bad-ass, who is a treasonous wimp and which opponent most belongs in a French hair salon.

The American public wants to move on from this. That's why Obama emerged; and that's why McCain emerged. Both had actually bucked some of the extremes in their own parties. And the central question in this election, to my mind, is: who will repudiate the Rove-Cheney inheritance most powerfully. If McCain emerges in this campaign as a man who is prepared to be coopted and programmed by the worst aspects of the Rove-Cheney era, then why should anyone believe he will be different from Bush in critical respects once he gets elected?

The campaigns are telling us something. So far in the general, on tactics alone, McCain is running for Bush's third term.

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