Maybe they did. John McCain's speech today was billed by his campaign as one of his most important to date and a summary of sorts of the past two months of policy addresses and promises. In it, McCain said that he hoped most American troops would be home by 2013 -- a new time frame for him.
PRESIDENT BUSH's decision to label Barack Obama as an appeaser has had three effects. Obviously, it made them angry. Less obviously, it made many of them defensive, which is precisely what the White House has in mind. McCain piled on:
“I think Barack Obama needs to sit down and explain why he wants to talk with the man who is the head of a government that is a state sponsor of terror. I will make this issue with Sen. Obama throughout this campaign, I believe in peace through strength and peace through strength is the way that we have succeeded in the past.”
McCain likes that talking point. But his speech has been entirely obscured by President Bush's. No one from the McCain campaign will say whether the White House tipped them off about the speech, and no one will say whether they protested -- or, indeed, have any power to protest. If I could magically summon a few day's worth of White House phone longs, I'd bet we'd find a few telephone calls between Ed Gillespie and Charlie Black and/or Steve Schmidt. They talk regularly. If the campaign was in cahoots with the White House, then it means that they're perfectly willing to let the White House play the role of stun-gunner; it means that the White House is perfectly willing to drop to that level. But President Bush? Outside of a dedicated decimal of the Republican base that is already, if polls are correct, committed to McCain, Bush has no political standing from which to make such charges. They aren't -- and I'm talking perception here -- credible.
THAT SAID, what the President has access to, and what John McCain does not, is Teddy Roosevelt's bully pulpit, stress on bully. That stage is only effective in advancing legislation for about the first 100 days of a presidency. After that, it becomes a way for the President to sharply focus the mind of the nation, instantly. And Bush has done that, today, on McCain's behalf. I ask because I don't quite remember: Did President Clinton do this in 2000? President Reagan in 1988?
ISRAEL is an extremely sensitive issue for the Obama campaign, and so the fact that President Bush chose an address at the Kenesset to force-feed his ill will probably extended a few staff meetings in Chicago today. Obama is resting at home with his family. It's a sign of the Obama campaign's maturity that they did not march Obama out to respond to Bush -- that would have been, by one measure, aggressive -- but then, the White House and the McCain campaign were kind of expecting to draw Obama into a debate about Hamas and Iran. Didn't happen. Obama's campaign issued two statements and left the rest of the response to others in the Democratic Party, like Joe Biden, who have immediate standing and skin in the game.