imageRichard Cohen is the dumbest motherfucker alive. After spending the first half of his column excoriating Obama for his rejection of public financing (again - a decision which, in our Elite Pundit world, was an utterly monumental blow to his credibility and for the people that are actually going to determine the next president was barely a blip on the radar), Cohen then lapses into some sort of ritualized he-man worship which I'm sure included references to sweat-soaked fatigues and a rainy night in the sexiest barracks ever in the original version.

In some recent magazine articles, I and certain of my colleagues have been accused of being soft on McCain, forgiving him his flips, his flops and his mostly conservative ideology. I do not plead guilty to this charge, because, over the years, the man's imperfections have not escaped my keen eye. But, for the record, let's recapitulate: McCain has either reversed himself or significantly amended his positions on immigration, tax cuts for the wealthy, campaign spending (as it applies to use of his wife's corporate airplane) and, most recently, offshore drilling. In the more distant past, he has denounced then embraced certain ministers of medieval views and changed his mind about the Confederate flag, which flies by state sanction in South Carolina only, I suspect, to provide Republican candidates with a chance to choose tradition over common decency. There, I've said it all.

No, actually, you haven't. Declaring yourself correct before you actually make your point is generally considered bad form, even worse when you sloppily toss together a shitty case and fling it at nameless, faceless accusers.

But here is the difference between McCain and Obama -- and Obama had better pay attention. McCain is a known commodity. It's not just that he's been around a long time and staked out positions antithetical to those of his Republican base. It's also -- and more important -- that we know his bottom line. As his North Vietnamese captors found out, there is only so far he will go, and then his pride or his sense of honor takes over. This -- not just his candor and nonstop verbosity on the Straight Talk Express -- is what commends him to so many journalists.

He also smells like the caress of fine sandalwood rubbed gently across my cheek. What the fuck?

McCain caved on torture. Of the woefully incomplete list of things Richard Cohen has decided Really Matter, he forgot the torture victim's cave-in on torture. Put another way, no matter how many donuts John McCain can fit around his turgid manroot, pointing a glazed phallus to the heavens under the watchful eye of an admiring God, it doesn't make media fantasies about the asshole true.

Obama might have a similar bottom line, core principles for which, in some sense, he is willing to die. If so, we don't know what they are. Nothing so far in his life approaches McCain's decision to refuse repatriation as a POW so as to deny his jailors a propaganda coup. In fact, there is scant evidence the Illinois senator takes positions that challenge his base or otherwise threaten him politically. That's why his reversal on campaign financing and his transparently false justification of it matter more than similar acts by McCain.

This, of course, is particularly relevant in light of the Vietcong Nutwhacking that Youtube and are sponsoring in late September.

The fundamental error in reasoning here is that when major voices at major newspapers are willing to construct wholesale fantasies and discard years of history in order to convince the world that you're a Man of Honor, there's no such thing as a decision that threatens you politically. Over the past few weeks, the media has again and again shown the willingness to face up to a single, inviolable fact about John McCain: his unshakable awesomeness gives him undeniable credibility. And a musk that makes women swoon.

A presidential race is only incidentally about issues. It's really about likability and character. Obama is, to paraphrase what he said about Hillary Clinton, more than "likable enough" -- in fact, so much so that he is the most charismatic presidential candidate I've seen since Robert F. Kennedy. But the character question hangs -- not because of any evidence to the contrary and not in any moral sense, either, but because he is still young and lacks the job references McCain picked up in a North Vietnamese prison. McCain has a bottom line. Obama just moved his.

Character, in case you didn't know it, is a zero-sum attribute. By necessity, the more character that McCain has, the less Obama has. When Obama saves a burning bus of children and puppies from diving off a cliff, McCain magically loses a year of imprisonment. If Obama delivers a baby during an earthquake, McCain's arms become unbroken. And if he gives sammiches to the press bus, McCain spent most of the 1980s traveling through the American Southwest murdering vagrants and stealing underwear from dorm laundry rooms.

Just saying.

UPDATE: More at Needlenose and Bark Bark Woof Woof.