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McCain: Ratcheting up the rhetoric

The New York Times writes about the state of the race and notes: "McCain's annoyance with the international coverage of Mr. Obama mounted steadily last week. He accused the news media of showing favoritism toward Mr. Obama. Over the last two days, his campaign has strongly implied that Mr. Obama declined to meet with wounded American troops at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany after he learned that he could not bring television cameras along. 'I know of no Pentagon regulation that would have prevented him from going there, without the media and the press and all of the associated people,' Mr. McCain said in the ABC interview."

"Mr. Obama, who visited wounded troops in Iraq without notifying the news media, and has visited injured soldiers in the United States, said he was not traveling with an official delegation and did not want to politicize the visit." 

VIDEO: Barack Obama's overseas trip was a success, causing the McCain camp to charge the media of bias. Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis talks with Keith Olbermann about John McCain's relationship with the media.

NBC's Andrea Mitchell reports that there was never a plan for Obama to take the press to Landstuhl, despite the claim by McCain folks and others. The plan was to go with his military aide, retired General Scott Gration. The Pentagon said Gration was off-limits because he had joined the campaign -- violating rules that it not be a political stop.

Obama had gone to see wounded troops in Iraq earlier in the week, without even confirming he'd been there. No press, no pictures. He has done the same when he goes to Walter Reed -- never any press.

The Washington Post also notes the ratcheted up rhetoric over Obama's decision to skip visiting troops in Germany, as well as on the issue of Iraq. "McCain's comments came days after he said in New Hampshire, 'It seems to me that Obama would rather lose a war in order to win a political campaign.' They appear to reflect the campaign's belief that it can make inroads with voters by keeping the focus on foreign policy issues after Obama's return from a week-long trip to Afghanistan, Iraq, the Middle East and Western Europe. The moves puzzled some GOP strategists, who said McCain would be better off touting a more positive message, and the senator from Arizona drew a strong rebuke from a longtime ally, Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), who traveled with Obama last week to Afghanistan and Iraq as part of a congressional delegation."

More: "One GOP strategist with close ties to McCain's campaign said the new line of attack reflected the operation's 'schizophrenic' nature. He said that tendency was also on display last week, as McCain spoke at length about media coverage of Obama rather than sticking with his plan to focus on the economy. 'They couldn't help themselves,' the strategist said, adding that the ad over the hospital visit is 'churlish and unlike McCain, and hardly will resonate with the swing voters who are going to decide this election.' The strategist continued: 'They're doing it because the candidate, and the campaign, is not happy with where they are and they're lashing out.'"

NBC's Sandy Luong reports… On ABC's This Week, McCain said of the surge: "He was wrong; I was right. That was the crucial point. [Obama] says that the surge has not worked. He said it couldn't work…When the decision had to be made whether to adopt the strategy of the surge, he said it wouldn't work, it would increase sectarian violence. He said all those things that made it acceptable to the left of his party." More: "If we had done what Sen. Obama wanted to do, which, by the way, initially would have been the troops out last March, we would've had greater Iranian influence, we would have had an increase in sectarian violence, we would have seen possibly a wider war in the region, which would have drawn us back."
 
Obama responded to his 2007 statement in which he said of the surge, "I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is going to solve the sectarian violence there; in fact, I think it'll do the reverse."  On NBC's Meet the Press, Obama told Tom Brokaw, "There were also statements made during the course of this debate in which I said there's no doubt that additional U.S. troops could temporarily quell the violence. But unless we saw an underlying change in the politics of the country, unless Sunni, Shia, Kurd made different decisions, then we were going to have a civil war and we could not stop a civil war simply with more troops." Obama turned the question back to McCain's judgment for authorizing the Iraq war.

Did McCain reverse himself on affirmative action? The AP: "McCain said yesterday that he supports a proposed ballot initiative in his home state that would prohibit affirmative action policies in state and local governments. A decade ago, he called a similar effort 'divisive.' Over the years, McCain has consistently voiced his opposition to hiring quotas based on race. He has supported affirmative action in limited cases. For example, he voted to maintain a program that encourages the awarding of 10 percent of spending on highway construction to women and minorities."

NBC/NJ's Carrie Dann notes that the Arizona ballot measure in question is the project of Ward Connerly, an African-American conservative activist who calls affirmative action a manifestation of racism. Democrats have anticipated that this ballot initiative could cause problems for McCain; earlier, McCain had called a similar measure divisive."

But it's worth noting that some experts wonder if the presence of the affirmative action measure could be just as sticky for Obama as it is for McCain. "It can put Obama in a tough position," says the University of Florida's Daniel Smith, one of the nation's top scholars on ballot initiatives. "Especially in a downturn of the economy, white voters may be looking for someone to blame for job losses or their poor financial situation." 

Here's a story that will get some on the left fired up. On Saturday, the New York Times noted how Bush's foreign policy this year has gotten more pragmatic -- at least compared with McCain's foreign policy. "Essentially, as the administration has taken a more pragmatic approach to foreign policy, the decision of Mr. McCain to adhere to his more hawkish positions illustrates the continuing influence of neoconservatives on his thinking even as they are losing clout within the administration. Whether the perception of Mr. McCain as being at odds with the administration is politically advantageous for him is a matter of debate among his supporters, but many of his more conservative advisers do not think it is a bad thing."

"'There's no doubt, particularly as Bush has adopted policies in the direction of Obama, that that gives Obama bragging rights,' said John R. Bolton, the Bush administration's former ambassador to the United Nations, who has sharply criticized the administration's talks with Iran and North Korea. 'But if you believe as I do that this administration is in the midst of an intellectual collapse, it doesn't hurt McCain. Occasionally in politics it helps to be right.'"

"But other Republicans -- the so-called foreign policy pragmatists, many of whom have come to view the Iraq war as a mistake -- say the administration's policy shifts highlight the more confrontational nature of Mr. McCain's foreign policy, particularly in his approach toward Russia and his embrace on Friday of the Dalai Lama, whom the Chinese regard as the fomenter of a rebellion in Tibet. They say the meeting will only antagonize China before the Summer Olympics, and at a moment when the United States is seeking its cooperation on economic issues and negotiations with North Korea."

Conservative analyst Jennifer Rubin notes that conservatives who feared McCain would hesitate to personally go after Obama should now feel assuaged. "Both the [Friday] speech and [Friday] interview are must-reads, both because of the force of the arguments and the fact that this is John McCain, who conservatives thought could never say a harsh word about a 'Democratic friend,' dismembering his opponent limb-by-limb. If there were any doubt that this is where the election will be won -- on disproving Obama's character, judgment and readiness to lead -- this should dispel those doubts. And if there is a better argument for McCain to make that can rally the conservative base and appeal to independents no one has yet found it. (Well, domestic energy production is a close second.)"

The New York Times front-pages McCain's leadership of an international democracy organization he's been in charge of for the last decade-plus, and how lobbyists have been the funders of it. "Over the years, Mr. McCain has nurtured a reputation for bucking the Republican establishment and criticizing the influence of special interests in politics. But an examination of his leadership of the Republican institute -- one of the least-chronicled aspects of his political life -- reveals an organization in many ways at odds with the political outsider image that has become a touchstone of the McCain campaign for president."