John McCain did two noteworthy things in last night's aggressively low-key Forum on Service event. First, as Steve Benen at Political Animal points out, McCain rediscovered a national service proposal that he had somehow lost during the last few years. It's no mystery: most conservative activists (with some honorable exceptions like the late William F. Buckley, Jr.) hate the idea of government-enabled non-military service, either on ideological grounds, or because they identify it (and particularly the AmeriCorps program that McCain's now praising) with Bill Clinton. Now that conservatives have been definitively propitiated by the selection of Sarah Palin as McCain's running-mate, it's apparenly safe for him to indulge in a few of his old heresies, however mildly.
More strikingly, McCain expressed all sorts of admiration for "community organizers"--you know, those useless busy-bodies and agitators that drew so much mockery at the recently-concluded Republican National Convention. McCain deflected his running-mate's derisive dismissal of community organizers as reflecting an understandably defensive attitude towards criticism of her own experience as mayor of a very small town. This does not, of course, offer much of an excuse for Rudy Giuliani's nasty, sneering references to community organizers in his "keynote" address the same night as Palin's speech.
The idea, of course, that McCain can shrug off attacks on Obama and his background made at the RNC as something he had nothing to do with is an insult to anybody who understands how modern party conventions work. His campaign controlled every word said from the podium. And in the extremely unlikely event that Giuliani or Palin somehow ad libbed the remarkalby well-coordinated sneers about community organizers, McCain didn't have to wait more than a week to make it clear he didn't agree.
There's plenty of grounds for suspicion that we're seeing a pattern here of McCain pretending to take the high road while his surrogates and campaign take the low road. At least with his nasty series of recent attack ads, he's been forced by law to "approve the message" explicitly. But make no mistake, he's approved every message, implicitly or explicitly, uttered in his name.