God knows you don’t need to dig too deep or spin too hard to catch Rudy Giuliani saying something awful. Usually, you just have to wait five minutes into a given public appearance — yesterday’s “I hope to do for the country what Bernie Kerik did for the city” comment comes to mind. And that’s why today’s flap over the candidate’s “torture joke” strikes us as a bit of a reach. Rudy made a funny about how, if sleep deprivation is torture, then his campaign schedule is torture, too. Before you knew it, John McCain demanded an apology, and the ex-Marine who runs McCain’s Veterans Advisory Committee in New Hampshire said, “His hyperbole is an insult to all American soldiers who have had to endure real torture.”
It’s the oddest thing: We know he was tortured in ’Nam and all, but somehow the outrage comes across as less, not more, genuine when it’s coming from McCain’s direction. Having completely squandered his bipartisan base (remember when people called themselves “McCain Republicans” to get some distance from Bush?), the man has been dusting off his one unassailable asset plenty. Now he’s lobbing it at the front-runner after what was at best a weak provocation. (One can imagine an SNL skit where everyone has to watch their mouth around John: Someone says, “a sharp drop in the polls,” and McCain responds, “Hey! Have you been dropped onto a sharp pole? Because I have.”).
Of course, there’s a genuinely scary lesson to be gleaned from this: that Giuliani doesn’t consider torture torture. But the McCain campaign, continuing its complicated two-step, isn’t pushing that angle — just the “insult to the American soldiers.” Who, even under President Giuliani, would be unlikely to directly suffer the consequences of a lax torture policy. —Michael Idov