Just a few days ago, after Barack Obama questioned John McCain's record on women's rights, a reporter asked the Republican nominee if he had any reaction. McCain almost sounded as if Obama had hurt his feelings: "You know I respect Senator Obama and I admire his success and I will conduct a respectful campaign. That kind of statement and allegation is not worthy of Senator Obama, nor worthy of the debate the American people want and deserve."
What's striking, though, is that for all of McCain's talk about "respect" and a "respectful campaign," his personal attacks against Obama are becoming increasingly common.
To be sure, Obama hasn't exactly been playing beanbag with the GOP candidate. The Democrat has been going after McCain, rather aggressively, on his misguided policy agenda and many policy reversals. But when it comes to personal issues, Obama is going out of his way to take the high ground, frequently referring to McCain as a "hero," and admonishing those who argue differently (or are perceived to have argued differently).
McCain, meanwhile, is doing the exact opposite, avoiding issues (on which his positions are Bush-like and unpopular) and going after Obama's personal integrity.
Monday, for example, after Obama rejected Wesley Clark's assessment of McCain's qualifications, the McCain campaign wouldn't accept Obama's denunciation: "Of course Barack Obama has called many times for a new kind of politics, but his campaign just hasn't lived up to it. We've learned we need to wait and see what Senator Obama actually does, rather than take him at his word." The comment went by largely unnoticed, but it's as harsh an attack on a candidate's character as we've heard from any major candidate this year.
Shortly thereafter, McCain was asked directly whether he questioned Obama's patriotism. The appropriate response would have been, "Of course not." Instead, McCain gave a circuitous response, and wouldn't answer the question directly.
These personal attacks are not isolated -- they appear to be part of a deliberate strategy. If McCain is making character attacks in June, what will his message be in October?