There has been a lot of talk about John McCain’s refusal to make a political issue out of Barack Obama’s connection with Jeremiah Wright, saying that McCain is going soft on a legitimate issue. While I think that the connection is a legitimate issue, especially in light of Obama’s connection to William Ayers and others, I think McCain is smart to play it back a little.
I do think he went a little further than he should in condemning the NC ad, but he should not make a big deal of anything at this time. Hillary and the Democrats in her camp are making enough out of this and a number of other issues that there is little need for McCain to comment, at least not until the primaries are over. McCain needs to put his work into proving why we should vote for him, instead of why not Obama or Clinton for the remainder of the primary process. We hear a lot about how sick Americans are of negative politics, and McCain is in the great position of having negative campaigns run against both of his political rivals while remaining clearly distant from the negativity. It is pretty hard to claim that McCain should shut Hillary up. There is a good chance that he will need to deal with this in the general election, but now is the time to stay back and let them beat each other up.
No matter who wins, both Democrats come out of this looking bad. McCain could go back to doing his job in the senate most of the time, and show up around the time most Americans just want Barack and Hillary to leave. Making a huge deal out of any of this before that time ruins the chance of entering the general election relatively “clean”.
And don’t forget the possibility of a brokered convention where someone else comes out as the candidate. While the possibility is fairly remote, both Democrats are sufficiently damaged goods at this point that it may be tempting to do. If that happens, all of the negative campaigning that McCain did on a personal (as opposed to policy) level can only count against him, making him look negative and petty.
All that said, McCain will also need to be willing to make an issue of these things in the general election, or he could be in a lot of trouble. It is interesting to note that McCain quietly cleared the way (at least some what) for the topic to come up in the general election. Jeremiah Wright speech this weekend sure didn’t help Obama either.
UPDATE: Sebastian touches on the same issue on Snowflakes in Hell. He adds the point that attacking Obama lends him credibility as the presumptive nominee, which would not help McCain.