Lame comeback of the week

Obama says McCain has “lost his bearings” when he violates his own pledge to campaign decently. What on earth does that have to do with McCain’s age?

When a pilot (let’s just say, to choose an example at random, of a Navy A-4 Skyhawk) goes off course and can’t figure out where he his or which direction he’s headed in, he is said to have “lost his bearings.”

When a candidate who promises to run a “respectful campaign” smears his opponent by trying to falsely associate him with a foreign terrorist group, that candidate can fairly be described as being off his intended course. Saying that he has “lost his bearings” seems appropriate, especially if that candidate used to fly A-4 Skyhawks.

Nothing about the phrase “lost his bearings” has anything to do with age, directly or by implication. (“Lost his marbles,” maybe, though I associate that phrase with insanity rather than dementia. But “lost his bearings”? No. That’s about navigation, not aging.)

So when Marc Salter of the McCain campaign accuses Barack Obama of “raising John McCain’s age as an issue,” you can only conclude that the McCain team had no decent defense for McCain’s smear and wanted to change the subject. (Think about it: since Hamas presumably understands U.S. politics, the natural implication of an “endorsement” of one candidate by a Hamas spokesman is that Hamas very much wants to see the other candidate elected. Given how wonderful two Bush terms have been for Hamas and its allies, it’s not surprising that they should be eager to see a third Bush term under McCain. But since when do we let foreign terrorists choose our leaders for us?)

But if your candidate is 72 and having senior moments all over the place, why on earth would you want to change the subject from his dishonesty to his age? As Obama’s spokesman says, Salter’s crazy response just shows that you don’t have to be old to lose your bearings.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: