Feature

Would a terrorist attack help McCain?

Charlie Black, a strategist for John McCain, really blew it when he said that a terrorist attack would help McCain's presidential campaign, said Brian Montopoli in a CBS News blog, but he wasn't necessarily wrong. The idea that an attack would help McCain

What happened
Charlie Black, the top strategist to Republican presidential hopeful John McCain, said in an interview with Fortune that a terrorist attack on the U.S. “would be a big advantage” to McCain in his campaign against Democrat Barack Obama. McCain, when asked about the comment, said: “I cannot imagine why he would say it. It’s not true.” Black also apologized, saying his remarks were “inappropriate.” (USA Today)

What the commentators said
Black’s politically damaging comments were “not exactly prudent,” said Brian Montopoli in CBS News’ Horserace blog. But do they hold up “on their merits”? McCain is running on “his national security experience,” so “it seems plausible that in the wake of a terrorist attack voters will turn to him” over the relatively “untested” Obama. But “the flip side” is that some people would chalk up any attack to “‘failed policies’ of the Bush administration” that McCain supports.

The idea that an attack would help McCain is “questionable at best,” said Jazz Shaw in The Moderate Voice blog. In 2004, it might have been true, but not after the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have arguably “made the country less safe, not more.” Politically, this was also an “unforced error” for the McCain campaign. A seasoned veteran like Black should have known better than to fall into such “an obvious gotcha trap.”

What was so awful about Black’s comment? said John Riley in Newsday’s Spin Cycle blog. He didn’t say McCain’s campaign was “hoping for a terror attack,” he only engaged in a “reasonable question” that many people, including in this newsroom, have “casually” discussed since 9/11: Who would benefit from an attack? And Black’s “is probably the right answer.”

It wasn’t a “whopper” of a gaffe “because it’s untrue,” said Jay Carney in Time’s Swampland blog, but rather “because it probably is true,” at least in Black’s mind. His problem was that he was “speculating about the political implications of a terrible event.” Obama would certainly be hit by the next salvo in the “Outrage War” if someone in his camp made a similar comment about the political benefits of “say, a spike in unemployment.”

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