11/07/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Et Tu, Senator McCain?

A few months ago, Mark Nicholas posted a strategy memo from John McCain's campaign manager--and famous lobbyist--Rick Davis (hat tips to blogger Mark Nicholas, and Ari Berman of the Nation):

Here's a key line from that memo: "John McCain will continue to run on his principles and will focus on the future of our country." Oops. To quote former Nixon Press Secretary Ron Ziegler, I guess that promise is now "inoperative."

Here's another broken pledge from that memo: "Throughout his life John McCain has held himself to the highest standards and he will continue to run a respectful campaign based on the issues." Maybe they forgot to add the other section: " least until I start falling behind in the polls, at which point I will unleash a bunch of nasty, irrelevant character attacks on my opponent."

What's most troubling about the McCain camp's desperate decision to unleash a barrage of character attacks on Senator Obama is that they understand perfectly the nastiness, the pettiness, the just-plain-wrongness of what they're doing.

Here's campaign manager Davis again, from an essay entitled "The Anatomy of a Smear Campaign" that ran in the Boston Globe 4 years ago, dissecting the smear campaign that the Bush team ran against John McCain in South Carolina back in 2000. A key section in Davis's essay reads:

"Campaigns have various ways of dealing with smears. They can refute the lies, or they can ignore them and run the risk of the smear spreading. But 'if you're responding, you're losing.' Rebutting tawdry attacks focuses public attention on them, and prevents the campaign from talking issues. We chose to address the attacks by trying to get the media to focus on the dishonesty of the allegations...We also pledged to raise the level of debate by refusing to run any further negative ads--a promise we kept, though it probably cost us the race."

So they know full well what they're doing. And they know it's wrong. This isn't about Wright and Ayers. This is about right and wrong.

The troubling question for John McCain is obvious: "Et tu, Senator McCain?"

And the question for the traditional media is just as obvious: Since you understand exactly what the McCain/Palin campaign is doing, are you going to abet them in this sleazy, divisive, below-the-belt behavior by promoting their preposterous charges?

Perhaps instead we could spend the last month of this campaign talking seriously about how we can update FDR's New Deal, and save the American economy from collapsing.