Last night, Obama and McCain both spoke at a forum on public service at Columbia University. There weren’t many surprises — both candidates support public service — but there was one exchange between Judy Woodruff and McCain that I found rather interesting. It’s in the video below, from about 5:10 to 6:35.

Woodruff: Senator, at the Republican convention, a couple of speakers, most notably your running mate, vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, made somewhat derisive comments about Senator Obama’s experience as a community organizer. I’ve heard you say… you haven’t taken that tone, so I guess my question is, are you saying to others in your campaign and your supporters that that’s not the kind of language you want to hear… How are you approaching that?

McCain: First of all, this is a tough business. Second of all, I think the tone of this whole campaign would have been very different if Senator Obama had accepted my request for us to appear in town hall meetings all over America, the same way Jack Kennedy and Barry Goldwater had agreed to do so. I know that because I’ve been in enough campaigns. Look — Governor Palin was responding to the criticism of her inexperience in her job as a mayor in a small town. That’s what she was responding to. Of course I respect community organizers. Of course I respect people who serve their community, and Senator Obama’s record there is outstanding. And so, I praise anyone who serves this nation in capacities that frankly we all know that could have been far more financially rewarding to individuals rather than doing what they did.

I can forgive the lack of clarity in that last sentence. I got the gist of it, and I’m a lousy public speaker myself. His excuse for Palin is bogus, but that was to be expected, as was his effusive praise for service in general and specifically Obama’s service.

What pricked up my ears was his claim that the tone of the campaign would have been different had Obama agreed to go on a tour of town hall meetings with McCain. Just what is that supposed to mean? Did the McCain campaign start putting out lies because McCain was angry that Obama didn’t want to do things his way? Is this revenge? Maybe it’s an offer of a bribe: come on tour with me and I’ll behave.

I honestly can’t think of a logical explanation for that statement that doesn’t involve anger or revenge.

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