Welcome to the first general-election policy debate! (That sounded more exciting in our head.) President Bush was only making a speech at the Israeli Knesset, but he may as well have been firing a starting gun. After Bush compared “some people” who wanted to negotiate with “terrorists and radicals” to Nazi appeasers, Barack Obama and John McCain were off and running. Obama called the comment a “false political attack”; McCain sided with Bush, questioning why Obama “wants to sit down and talk with” Iran. Later, in a conference call with bloggers, McCain went further, saying Obama was incapable of preserving the nation’s security. Obama is expected to respond in a speech later today, so this is not even close to over.
• Chuck Todd and friends call this a big gift to Obama: Bush’s comments took attention away from Hillary Clinton after her big win, gave Obama an easy, unpopular target in the president, and helped array the Democrats behind their presumptive nominee. [First Read/MSNBC]
• Andrew Romano also calls Bush’s comments a gift and thinks Bush is not at all helping McCain. [Stumper/Newsweek]
• Whoops: James P. Rudin reveals that McCain was actually in favor of talking to Hamas only a couple of years ago and calls McCain’s criticisms of Obama “either the height of hypocrisy or a case of political amnesia.” [WP]
• Kevin Drum thinks McCain will “wriggle” out the potentially huge flip-flop with some creative interpretation of the language he used. [Political Animal/Washington Monthly]
• Noam Scheiber notes that the Bush’s comments proved that if there’s one thing he’s good at, it’s unifying the Democrats, including Hillary Clinton. [Stump/New Republic]
• Matthew Yglesias wonders what exactly those afraid of speaking to Iran believe would happen if we did. How exactly would Iran’s prestige be enhanced? What would that “prestige” allow them to do? [Atlantic]
• David Limbaugh says it’s absurd that, while Democrats refer to Bush’s foreign policy as “cowboy diplomacy,” Bush’s drawing a comparison to the appeasement of Hitler has the Democrats and mainstream media going “ballistic.” [Town Hall]
• Jonathan Chait stresses the point that Bush’s attack on Obama was unprecedented because it occurred on foreign soil. [Plank/New Republic]
• Marc Ambinder tries to understand McCain’s perspective: For the past week he’s been distancing himself from Bush, and on a day he stressed post-partisanship, he let Bush “step on his message.” Was there any kind of coordination going on? [Atlantic]
• Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Jim Rutenberg think Bush’s comments underscore his willingness and intention to use his “presidential platform” to influence the election. [NYT]
• Massimo Calabresi thinks Bush is using Obama to remain relevant, and that Obama, apparently eager to take on the president, welcomes the chance to tie McCain and Bush together. [Time]
• Rick Klein and Mike Elmore think yesterday’s biggest surprise was how the spat reflected on Obama’s standing in his party. Bush didn’t even need to mention Obama’s name to “spark a firestorm back home,” and the way the party Establishment rallied “felt like a general election.” [Note/ABC News]
• John Dickerson writes that the emerging debate fits in with the strategy the candidates will use against each other, namely, picking the other’s “running mate”: Obama will pick Bush for McCain, and McCain, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for Obama. [Slate] —Dan Amira
For a complete and regularly updated guide to presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John McCain — from First Love to Most Embarrassing Gaffe — read the 2008 Electopedia.