The trouble isn't that McCain's campaign is the worstest of all times. (Indeed, part of the problem is that attacks don't seem to register anymore unless enemies and opponents are framed with maximum hyperbole, with everything they say or do or don't presented as the ultimate in the crappiness of whatever kind of thing they are saying or doing, etc.).
The trouble is that regardless of whether McCain's campaign even cracks the top ten sleaziest campaigns in American history, it simply sucks. We know that much. We are on a need to know basis, and it is all we need to know. At this point, I don't see much point in prevaricating over the truth: this campaign is flying beneath the pride of conservatives and Republicans. Even those who might give it a pass on general principles of hardball must realize that under circumstances like these it could do permanent damage to the reputation of the Republican party as a storehouse (or at least a forum) for credible and conscientious conservative ideas.
Well, yes - it might. But then again it might not. George H.W. Bush ran a pretty content-free campaign against Michael Dukakis, and earned a reputation (partially justified, partially not) for sleaziness in the process ... but I don't think he did permanent damage to the GOP's ability to advance conservative ideas, and I don't look back and wish that Dukakis had been President instead, the better to jump-start a conservative revival in 1992. I'm definitely underwhelmed by the McCain campaign (nearly everything I've written about their efforts has been lukewarm-to-negative, I think), and I can rattle off a long list of reasons for conservatives to greet a McCain defeat with something less than wailing and gnashing of teeth. But the fact that this isn't a campaign for the Right to be proud of doesn't mean that its defeat is necessary to the future prospects of American conservatism. It's possible, as James goes on to write, that "Obama's the softest landing the GOP is likely to get, at a time when a hard landing could smash it into a fiery wreck of pieces," and that a McCain Presidency would be the equivalent of John Major's PMship - the victory snatched from the jaws of defeat that sets you up for a longer exile later on. That's a scenario I've been wrestling with all year. But being something of a cynic about "honor" among competing political campaigns, I'm very, very resistant to the notion that the degree of truthiness on display in McCain's late-summer attack ads provides anything like a dispositive resolution to the question.