One of Sen. John McCain’s chief advisers is in hot water over remarks he made to a magazine reporter. Charles R. Black, Jr. told Fortune magazine that a new terrorist attack on American soil "certainly would be a big advantage to him (McCain)." McCain quickly distanced himself from the remarks and Sen. Barack Obama called them "a disgrace." Left unmentioned was the fact that the remarks are true. This is an old Washington tradition. You can say almost any outrageous thing you want so long as it is false. Thus, George W. Bush continues to insist that he is some kind of fiscal conservative even while the budget deficit has exploded on his watch. Democrats continue to clamor for reforms to help preserve Medicare, the program designed to assist the elderly, when in fact it is Medicaid, the program designed to help the poor, that is going to go bankrupt first. But, it will take too long to disprove these claims, and the arguments needed are too complex for today’s media. But, Charlie Black says something that everyone knows to be true, and he gets nailed. This is a modified example of what writer Michael Kinsley has observed about scandals in Washington: What is truly scandalous is not when the law is broken, but what is perfectly legal and is done every day in the full light of the sun. John McCain is running on his security credentials. So, of course, any new event that focuses the attention of the electorate on the security situation is bound to help his campaign. A terrorist attack would incline Americans to trust the Republicans more than the Democrats. No one doubts that. But, they dare not say it. Obama was right to call Black’s remarks a "disgrace." They were disgraceful in two ways. First, there are possibilities that are so horrific that placing them alongside standard political calculi of what will, or will not, benefit a campaign is offensive and shows a lack of perspective. When Hillary Clinton mentioned Bobby Kennedy’s assassination as one of the unforeseeable events that kept her staying in the race, a similar line was crossed. But, arguably, the greater disgrace is that the American electorate still thinks of the Republicans as the party that will keep them safe. The disaster in Iraq has raised an army of anti-American zealots and distracted us from the war in Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden has still not been brought to justice. The commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan says he needs more troops but there are no more troops. We stand powerless militarily and diplomatically before the rest of the world, as evidenced by events in Zimbabwe. The real disgrace here is that anyone would trust the GOP with the nation’s security. But that argument is a little too complicated. Michael Sean Winters
Fears of Terrorism: Faux or Real?