John McCain's ball and chain


Behold the candidate as he tries to perform pirouettes with a dead weight chained to his ankle.

Less metaphorically, behold the candidate as he tries in vain to simultaenously defend and distance himself from a highly embarrassing compadre.

But no, this is not about Barack Obama and his former pastor. This is about John McCain and the Republican president who, five years ago yesterday, appeared beneath a "Mission Accomplished" banner and assured the American people that major combat in Iraq was over (at a cost of 138 military deaths). This would be the same McCain compadre who, just last week, set a new record for failure by posting the highest presidential disapproval rating in the 70-year history of the Gallup poll.

You can all debate amongst yourselves whether Wright or Bush is the weightier albatross - is it the guy who talks like a loon, or the guy who launches a disastrous war? - but the latest NBC-Wall Street Journal poll has the winner:

When registered voters were asked to rank their major concerns, the largest plurality - 43 percent - cited McCain's ties to the Bush administration. The Obama-Wright connection ranked fourth, cited by 32 percent. And this survey was conducted during the four-day span when Wright was all over the news, before Obama severed his ties on Tuesday.

I doubt that McCain's performance yesterday will lower his ranking. It was a small incident, but instructive nonetheless. Asked to critique the fifth anniversary of Mission Accomplished, he at first tried to give Bush the benefit of the doubt: "Do I blame him for that specific banner? I can't."

Explain that one. Was McCain suggesting that Bush shouldn't bear any responsibility for a giant slogan that was hung above his head for the express purpose of being captured on video for posterity? Didn't Truman say that the buck stops at the president's desk? Did Bush have to hang the banner personally before McCain would deem him blameworthy?

Anyway, McCain then tried to balance his exoneration with a profile in courage. He added: "I thought it was wrong at the time."

Explain that one, too. I don't recall, five years ago, ever hearing McCain say publicly that the banner was wrong. On the contrary, he indicated that the banner was just fine. For instance, during a Fox News appearance on June 11, 2003, he was asked to respond to the Bush critics who were questioning whether the Iraq conflict had really ended. McCain's retort: "Well, then why was there a banner that said 'mission accomplished' on the aircraft carrier?"

If, as he now claims, he really "thought" the banner "was wrong at the time," this means that his '03 public defense was the antithesis of straight talk.

No wonder so many Democrats are anxious to resolve their intramural strife with all deliberate speed, firm in their belief that ultimately McCain will be dragging the heaviest chain.