THINKING LIKE A REPUBLICAN…. The Washington Post’s E. J. Dionne Jr. had a column four years ago this month that’s always stuck with me. He noted, in the midst of the last presidential campaign, that Republicans are not above lying, but Democrats just can’t bring themselves to do the same thing. “A very intelligent political reporter I know said the other night that Republicans simply run better campaigns than Democrats,” Dionne wrote at the time. “If I were given a free pass to stretch the truth to the breaking point, I could run a pretty good campaign, too.”

I thought about the column when I was chatting this morning with a friend who works in Democratic campaign politics. We commiserated over the fact that Obama has become efficient in responding to the constant barrage of deceptive attacks from the McCain campaign, but doesn’t launch deceptive attacks of his own against the McCain campaign.

My friend asked me what Atwater/Rove/Schmidt would do if they worked for Obama. What kind of attacks would they make against McCain? It got me thinking.

My first ad would probably be pretty straightforward: John McCain wants to cut off all U.S. aid to Israel.

Well, no, actually he doesn’t, but I think I could probably make a good ad that says he does. In April, McCain argued that he could cut $65 billion in earmarks from the federal budget. Asked where the number came from, the McCain campaign cited a Congressional Research Service’s report that identifies $65 billion in “earmarks.”

Except, the CRS’s report also included all U.S. financial support for Israel. The aid budget, for the purpose of CRS accounting, is an “earmark.”

Soon after, the McCain campaign scrambled, said it no longer liked the CRS report, and assured voters that aid to Israel wouldn’t be affected. But that doesn’t change the fact that, in April, McCain (inadvertently) vowed to voters that he wouldn’t hesitate to cut off all U.S. financial support to Israel, starting in 2009.

Now, I know McCain doesn’t really want to cut off aid to Israel, just as McCain knows Obama doesn’t want to give sex-ed lessons to kindergarteners. The difference is, McCain approves disgusting ads he knows to be false. The Israel ad is, by most measures, even more honest and accurate than McCain’s, even though I know it’s completely misleading.

So, what kind of ads would you run if you wanted to be like the McCain campaign? Remember, there has to be some kind of basis for the claim. You can’t just say, “McCain sells heroin to school children.” You have to be support the ridiculous attack with something, just as I can back up the claim that McCain wants to cut off aid to Israel.

What have you got?

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.