08/04/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Why McCain's Attack Makes Obama Look Big

So the McCain campaign finally found its line of attack against Barack Obama's widely heralded global tour. Ever since Obama canceled a trip to visit wounded soldiers in Germany, based on logistical disagreements with the Pentagon, McCain has used the snafu to argue that Obama -- you guessed it -- does not support the troops. A new ad, released on Saturday, assails Obama for prioritizing limelight and exercise over honoring American soldiers:

And now, he made time to go to the gym, but canceled a visit with wounded troops. Seems the Pentagon wouldn't allow him to bring cameras.

The ad is running in selected markets in Colorado, Pennsylvania and DC. The campaign would not release the overall ad buy, but the limited run suggests it is more focused on shaping the media narrative than directly persuading voters around the country. It's working -- the ad drove the weekend talk shows and major newspaper articles. In a 24-hour period on Sunday, the topic netted a striking 741 stories on Google news. (Under the narrow search term ""McCain ad" troops Obama visit," if you were wondering.) And the McCain camp is energized about using the canceled visit as a chance to reframe Obama's entire trip. Aides have been pushing a statement from a veteran chiding Obama that "visits with world leaders and speeches to cheering Europeans shouldn't be a substitute for comforting injured American heroes." McCain spokesperson Tucker Bounds is hammering that contrast between homegrown heroes and foreign crowds. On Saturday he told me that Obama:

...failed to recognize the need to visit wounded combat troops, instead choosing to continue on with a schedule that included meeting with international leaders and fawning Germans.

In a statement, Obama spokesperson Tommy Vietor countered that McCain "is running an increasingly dishonorable campaign." He added:

"Senator Obama was honored to meet with our men and women in uniform in Iraq and Afghanistan this week and has visited wounded soldiers at Walter Reed numerous times. This politicization of our soldiers is exactly what Senator Obama sought to avoid, and it's not worthy of Senator McCain or the 'civil' campaign he claimed he would run."

Ultimately, the McCain Campaign's melodramatic attack is wrong on two levels. First, it is false to suggest that the trip was canceled over "cameras" or the "gym." The trip was spiked during discussions with the Pentagon over whether a defense aide could accompany Obama and how to prevent the trip from being politicized. (Both Obama and McCain have recently made closed-press trips to visit wounded soldiers.)

Second, these trip logistics have nothing to do with being president. The related attacks, just like attempts to measure patriotism by lapel jewelery, are a complete diversion from the actual foreign policy issues at stake. Every candidate kisses babies and visits soldiers, but the rituals reveal nothing about our potential leaders. McCain has often talked about his commitment to running a campaign based on issues. Yet now he is seizing on a meaningless non-event, exploiting American troops by casting them as victims in this petty squabble, and impugning an opponent who just addressed soldiers, international leaders and foreign citizens to outline a new course for America in the world.

Obama's trip clearly made Obama look big. It took McCain's reaction to make McCain look so small.

Ari Melber writes for The Nation, where this post first appeared.

Video: Republican Senator Chuck Hagel condemning McCain's attack on ABC yesterday, followed by the attack ad.