MCCAIN’S BIZARRE TOWN-HALL EXCUSE…. Way back in early August, John McCain came up with an excuse to explain why he was engaging in sleazy campaign tactics: “I think we could have avoided at least some of this if we had agreed to do the town hall meetings” he’d proposed.

Two months later, in last night’s debate, McCain was still relying on this bizarre rationalization.

“Well, this has been a tough campaign. It’s been a very tough campaign. And I know from my experience in many campaigns that, if Sen. Obama had asked — responded to my urgent request to sit down, and do town hall meetings, and come before the American people, we could have done at least 10 of them by now…. I think the tone of this campaign could have been very different.”

After more than two months of this nonsense, the argument isn’t getting any better.

To hear McCain tell it, the only way for the presidential campaign to be respectful and substantive is for McCain to get to know Obama better by sharing a stage and arguing with him. This is painfully absurd.

If McCain wanted to be an honorable candidate, he could be an honorable candidate, whether his opponent is a Senate colleague or a total stranger. Building a rapport is not a prerequisite for honest campaigning — character, integrity, and respect for the political process are prerequisites for honest campaigning.

Whether there are three debates or 300 is irrelevant. It’s not like McCain and Steve Schmidt got together one day and said, “Well, I wasn’t going to spend the fall lying pathologically and smearing Obama, but since there are only going to be three debates, we might as well.”

But let’s pause and accept McCain’s ridiculous argument at face value. He decided to run a repugnant campaign because he hadn’t had enough one-on-one time with Obama. Fine. Taking the next step, though, McCain and Obama have now met for three debates, totaling more than four-and-a-half hours.

Does that mean McCain is now ready to drag his campaign out of the gutter?

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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.