Election Day is still more than five months away, and Sen. Barack Obama has yet to obtain the "presumptive nominee" tag in the Democratic presidential race. But if the verbal brickbats Sen. John McCain hurled at him late in the week are any indication, a general election matchup between the two will bear little resemblance to the reasoned, civil campaign both have said they will strive for.
It's been fairly obvious for some time that something about Obama rubs McCain the wrong way, more so than the other prospective Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. Hillary Clinton. And McCain's reaction to a barb Obama directed at him Thursday provided the latest evidence.
On the Senate floor, Obama personalized an impending vote on a veterans benefits bill by noting that McCain was against it. After making a nod -- as he almost always does when mentioning him -- to McCain's military record, Obama said, "I can't understand why he would line up behind the president in opposition to this GI bill."
A release from McCain, who was campaigning in California at the time, followed quickly, notable for its sharp edge. It began with a boldface quote from the presumptive Republican presidential nominee: "Perhaps, if Sen. Obama would take the time and trouble to understand this issue he would learn to debate an honest disagreement respectfully. But, as he always does, he prefers impugning the motives of his opponent, and exploiting a thoughtful difference of opinion to advance his own ambitions. . . ."
In the past, McCain has been loath to play the "I wore the uniform, you didn't" card. It was telling, in terms of his attitude toward Obama, that he set aside that reluctance.
off the sidelines
Linda Douglass, who parlayed a successful career as a television journalist in Los Angeles into an even more illustrious one at the national level, made a switch last week that sparked discussion about media bias: She signed on with Obama's campaign, joining his staff as a senior strategist and spokeswoman.
Douglass, who served as ABC's chief congressional correspondent for several years earlier this decade, said this: "I see this as a moment of transformational change in the country and I have spent my lifetime sitting on the sidelines watching people attempt to make change. I just decided that I can't sit on the sidelines anymore."
Douglass, who most recently had been writing about the presidential campaign for National Journal magazine (an influential inside-the-Beltway publication), made her comment to Marc Ambinder, a blogger for theatlantic.com.
In a post, Ambinder, while calling her "an eminently fair journalist," added: "To conservative media critics, the divide between the press corps and modern political liberalism is fairly narrow, and easy to jump over, and Douglass' decision will reconfirm their sense that bias pervades newsrooms."
A California native and USC graduate, Douglass began her career at L.A.'s KCBS in 1974. She became best known at KNBC, serving as the station's political editor from 1985 until her husband's law practice took them to Washington in 1992.
A matter of
Based on the presentations (and presenters) at the annual Computers, Freedom and Privacy conference in New Haven, Conn., last week, one could easily conclude that the two leading presidential candidates had taken the roles of the two guys in the Apple commercials.
Both McCain and Obama sent surrogates to the confab. For Obama, it was Daniel J. Weitzner from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Weitzner, who helped draft the campaign's tech policy positions, looked Steve Jobs-cool in his light tan blazer and open-collar pink shirt. And he had his Mac laptop with him on the lectern.
Carrying water for McCain was campaign special counsel Chuck Fish. An intellectual property lawyer by trade, he took a more buttoned-down, corporate approach: dark gray suit, white shirt and tie. And no obvious sign of any Apple products. The Mac/PC comparison really jumped out when the two started talking.
Weitzner spoke in a breezy, casual fashion. He emphasized Obama's support for net neutrality legislation to prevent Internet service providers from discriminating against content flowing over their networks. Obama's "commitment is to preserve and enable the growth of the Internet with its current openness properties," he said.
Fish laid out in lawyerly terms a plan that was more in line with big technology companies than the bloggers, privacy advocates and online activists attending the conference. He said McCain preferred a more market-oriented approach to technology issues. While not opposed to government regulations to correct problems such as net neutrality, McCain prefers to wait until problems develop.
A vote Clinton
hates to lose
As Hillary Clinton basked in her West Virginia primary romp earlier this month she invoked, literally, the spirit of Florence Steen.
Clinton told her cheering crowd that the South Dakotan, "88 years old and in failing health," had "asked that her daughter bring an absentee ballot to her hospice bedside. Florence was born before women had the right to vote, and she was determined to exercise that right, to cast a ballot for her candidate, who just happened to be a woman running for president."
Turns out, however, that under South Dakota law, absentee ballots cast by voters who die before an election are not to be opened. Thus, Steen's vote won't get tallied.
Excerpted from The Times' political blog, Top of the Ticket, at www.latimes.com/