Unwelcome advice from a wise man

At Saddleback, John McCain identified John Lewis as among the three wisest men he has known. Now he’s demanding that Barack Obama denounce John Lewis for comparing the McCain-Palin campaign to the George Wallace campaign.

John McCain furiously demands that Barack Obama denounce John Lewis, whom McCain identified two months ago as one of the three wisest men he knew. Lewis, mentioning George Wallace, reminded McCain that the rhetoric of hatred can have real-life consequences. Apparently McCain didn’t want to hear that.

Obama’s spokesman won’t go as far as Lewis in comparing McCain to George Wallace, and gives McCain credit for rebuking some of his more outrageous supporters, but also points out that when Palin accuses Obama of “palling around with terrorists” she’s crossing a line that shouldn’t be crossed.

The country has been told that we’re at war with terrorists. Identifying a political opponent &#8212 especially one likely to be President soon &#8212 with the national enemy amounts to an accusation of treason. The penalty for treason is death. Are there people out there crazy enough to act on that line of reasoning? Of course there are.

[No, of course the Weather Underground has nothing to do with al-Qaeda, but the choice of the word “terrorist” was Palin’s, or rather the choice of her McCain-assigned speechwriters, not mine.]

I doubt that Lewis cleared his remarks with the Obama camp. Those remarks broke the first rule of politics: never interfere when an opponent is committing suicide. But Lewis has nothing to apologize for; several journalists who remember that era had already made the comparison between the crowd behavior at McCain-Palin campaign appearances the crowd behavior at George Wallace appearances. The denunciations of the liberal media, intellectuals, bicoastal elites, and cosmopolitans that form the core of the current McCain-Palin rhetoric are all drawn from the Wallace playbood. And in any case Obama is not accountable for what Lewis said.

McCain’s attempt to change the subject from the hate-rallies he and his sidekick have been running to the accuracy of comments made by someone McCain regards as a sage isn’t going to work. If McCain has a problem with Lewis, maybe he ought to talk to Lewis himself. McCain could use a little wise advice right about now.

Update Turns out that McCain barely knows one of the three wisest men he knows of. When he mentioned, Lewis at Saddleback, he was bullsh!tting.

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: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com