by Max Brantley
John McCain seems almost a second thought as the fall campaign begins in earnest. Here, a blogger provides links to articles 1) assailing Obama from the Religious Right (James Dobson) and 2) noting Muslims' unhappiness with Obama. (Why, really, is it a "smear" to be called a Muslim?) A Washington Post columnist who pounded Clinton in Obama's behalf during the primary campaign now finds McCain's character preferable in light of Obama's change of direction on campaign financing.
But here is the difference between McCain and Obama -- and Obama had better pay attention. McCain is a known commodity. It's not just that he's been around a long time and staked out positions antithetical to those of his Republican base. It's also -- and more important -- that we know his bottom line. As his North Vietnamese captors found out, there is only so far he will go, and then his pride or his sense of honor takes over. This -- not just his candor and nonstop verbosity on the Straight Talk Express -- is what commends him to so many journalists.
Obama might have a similar bottom line, core principles for which, in some sense, he is willing to die. If so, we don't know what they are.
Hillary's with him, at least. I still think the ultimate shape of how the media line up on this election will be interesting if not the determining factor. McCain has flip-flopped, most recently, on oil drilling. His man Charlie Black blundered terribly yesterday on terrorism. But my general impression is that McCain errors have a shorter half-life than do Obama's in the columnist/blog/cable echo chamber (MSNBC a notable exception). Ask Al Gore about how assigned story lines refuse to die -- still.