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Robert Schlesinger

Robert Schlesinger

Posted: August 5, 2008 09:55 PM

Is John McCain Responsible for His Own Negative Campaign?


I was both bemused and annoyed the other night to watch the Hardball crowd try to separate John McCain from the wildly negative tone that his campaign has recently taken. (I'm not the only one who noticed it.)

Andrea Mitchell and company essentially said that John McCain is not responsible for his campaign because he's been fooled by (among others) that nasty old Internet and its bloggers. Seriously. If you haven't seen the video, click over to Robert Emmet, where I had some fun with the assertion.

But there's a serious aspect to this line of argument. Two actually.

The first is near and dear to me because it touches on my own peculiar area of expertise -- the relationship between a politician and their speechwriter. (My White House Ghosts: Presidents and Their Speechwriters was published to positive reviews in April.) There is a distinction, I argue, between authorship and ownership of a speech -- regardless of who first put words onto paper the pol who actually delivers the speech must get credit for it. That applies for both good and ill -- a pol should get credit for winning words and so can't pass off inept or failed verbiage on staffers.

The application here is: It's McCain's campaign, not Steve Schmidt's or Mark Salter's or anyone else's. We might joke otherwise, but John McCain does take credit for his bizarre ads. It's not for the press to declare he probably doesn't mean it.

Second -- what's the broader message? That McCain is an honorable dolt kept in the dark by his insidious handlers? This is their idea of a defense?