COSSACKS AND CZARS….At the New York Times, Jim Rutenberg lays out the McCain campaign strategy and where it comes from:

After spending much of the summer searching for an effective line of attack against Senator Barack Obama, Senator John McCain is beginning a newly aggressive campaign to define Mr. Obama as arrogant, out of touch and unprepared for the presidency.

….Mr. McCain’s campaign is now under the leadership of members of President Bush’s re-election campaign, including Steve Schmidt, the czar of the Bush war room that relentlessly painted his opponent, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, as effete, elite, and equivocal through a daily blitz of sound bites and Web videos that were carefully coordinated with Mr. Bush’s television advertisements.

The run of attacks against Mr. Obama over the last couple of weeks have been strikingly reminiscent of that drive.

That’s pretty clear. And the cossacks work for the czar, right? Not quite:

As Election Day nears, McCain’s campaign is adopting the aggressive, take-no-prisoners style of Karl Rove, the GOP operative who engineered victories for President Bush….But the sharp-edged approach is being orchestrated for an unpredictable candidate who often chafes at delivering the campaign’s message of the day. It is that freewheeling style that has made him popular with voters and cemented his reputation for candor and straight talk.

That’s Juliet Eilperin and Robert Barnes of the Washington Post, who evidently can’t abide the thought that McCain himself is responsible for his campaign’s “sharp-edged” approach. Apparently he’s just a straight talking guy who woke up one morning and found himself mysteriously under the sway of a vile cabal of political hit men and unable to do anything about it.

Enough’s enough. McCain hired Steve Schmidt, he approves the strategy, and he signs off on the ads. If his campaign is mired in sleaze, it’s not happening despite McCain, it’s happening because of McCain. Stop making excuses for him.

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