WASHINGTON, July 22 (UPI) -- The editors of The New York Times must be determined to get Sen. John McCain elected president of the United States. That is the only rational explanation for their decision to ban him from publishing an article on their op-ed page because it was supposedly incompatible with one from Sen. Barack Obama they previously had published.
The decision was especially striking, coming as it did during Obama's triumphal progress across the Middle East, Central Asia and Europe, with all three anchors of the three most venerable television networks worshipfully in tow. None of them bothered to accompany McCain, R-Ariz., the GOP front-runner, when he took a similar trip a few months ago, or when he more recently visited Colombia and Mexico.
Obama, D-Ill., has been riding high this week, as we have noted, with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki backing his bold plan to evacuate all 16 U.S. combat brigades from Iraq by the end of 2010. That certainly will boost Obama with his core supporters and should give him a huge boost for foreign policy sagacity and credibility with the independents he must win over to capture the presidency. It was striking that Gallup's daily tracking poll Tuesday showed Obama still only very narrowly ahead of McCain by 3 points -- 45 percent to 42 percent -- despite all the favorable mainstream publicity he has been receiving.
However, Obama also risks a major patriotic backlash. Even though Maliki is, ostensibly, a U.S. ally, a full troop pullout will certainly not please Heartland conservatives, the very core Republicans who in the past have been the most hostile or suspicious of McCain. Obama's Middle East policies run the risk of shoring up McCain's core support. Now The New York Times has made it even easier for McCain to secure the key support he must have from his own base.
For conservatives around the country, especially across the American Heartland, will see the decision to ban McCain from The New York Times' op-ed page because his proposed article was too different from an Obama one as unfair and outrageous. It will only serve to confirm their long-established distrust of the mainstream American media for having an enormous and ineradicable liberal bias.
It is certainly unprecedented for The Times, which still likes to imagine itself as the U.S. national newspaper of record, to ban the front-running candidate and virtually certain nominee of either of the two great political parties from publishing an op-ed piece with them whenever they request it. And it is certainly not the case that McCain is an inexperienced neophyte. He has been in the Senate for more than 20 years, while Obama has served less than two-thirds of a single term there.
Nor can it be said that McCain is trailing Obama so badly and is so certain to lose the election that what he has to say isn't important anyway. Given the soaring oil prices, the housing and banking crises, the continued unpopularity of the Iraq war and President George W. Bush's dismal standings in the opinion polls, McCain is doing vastly better than anyone could have dared to imagine. In the past month alone, as we noted earlier this week, he has erased a potentially killing lead of up to 15 points that Obama held over him in June, according to Newsweek and other polls. And this happened at a time when Obama enjoyed a free ride in the national media and vastly greater -- and uncritical -- coverage in it.
Banning McCain from an op-ed opportunity in The New York Times and the fawning coverage that Katie Couric and her colleagues are giving Obama on his Grand Tour, therefore, is exactly what McCain needs. For McCain's problems are the opposite of Obama's.
Obama has an energized and united Democratic Party around him. Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., has not dared to say a word against him since she dropped out of the race, and the supposed passionate loyalty of her support has melted away. Now Obama must reach out to the undecided center to clinch the presidency.
But McCain faces exactly the opposite challenge. He is already well-known, trusted, liked and respected by independent voters. For precisely that reason, it is the conservative and Christian Right home base who have doubted his bona fides. In their eyes, his humiliation at the hands of The New York Times is a kiss of life, not death. It is an anointing of conservative sainthood.
Obama this week won the respect and support of the prime minister of Iraq; McCain was rejected with contempt by The New York Times. On balance, McCain won.