Pondering whether McCain would be worse than Bush

The latest flap between Clinton and Obama is whether McCain would be as bad as or worse than Bush.

Published April 21, 2008 5:10PM (EDT)

The back-and-forth attacks from the Clinton and Obama campaigns were so common over the weekend, it was a challenge keeping up with them all. There was, however, one especially odd story that stood out.

[As Obama] offered his closing words at a town meeting at Reading High School, after he delivered a speech and took questions for 40-minutes, Mr. Obama offered a different view of Mr. McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee.

"You have a real choice in this election. Either Democrat would be better than John McCain -- and all three of us would be better than George Bush," Mr. Obama said. "But what you have to ask yourself is, who has the chance to actually, really change things in a fundamental way?"

Oops. The whole point of the Democratic message is that McCain is just like President Bush, not that he's better than Bush. Indeed, as recently as last Wednesday's debate, Barack Obama said there was "no daylight" between McCain and Bush on the nation's most important issues. Obama stepped on his own message with an unhelpful stray remark.

But Hillary Clinton's response to Obama's comment was also off-base.

"Senator Obama said today that John McCain would be better for the country than George Bush," Mrs. Clinton said. "Now, Senator McCain is a real American patriot who has served our country with distinction. But Senator McCain would follow the same failed policies that have been so wrong for our country the last seven years. Senator McCain thinks it's O.K. to keep our troops in Iraq for another 100 years. Is that better than George Bush?"

As people in the crowd shouted "No!" Mrs. Clinton added, "We need a nominee who will take on John McCain, not cheer on John McCain, and I will be that nominee."

To be sure, Obama's line was undisciplined and off-message. It makes perfect sense for the Clinton campaign to pounce. But we need a nominee who will "take on John McCain, not cheer on John McCain"? Really?

Because it was the Clinton campaign that praised McCain for having the experience necessary to be president, passing the "commander-in-chief threshold," being a "moderate" and even being right about global warming.

Who's been cheering on John McCain?

For what it's worth, it didn't take too long for Obama and his team to realize he'd said something he shouldn't have. Obama spokesman Bill Burton soon after told reporters, "It's hard to imagine a president doing a worse job than President Bush but one thing is clear, John McCain wants to do his best to emulate Bush's failed economic and foreign policies and even his divisive political tactics."

By Steve Benen

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