THE TOWN-HALL MYTH…. In an otherwise complimentary column, David Broder notes one of his biggest disappointments about Barack Obama’s campaign.

He rejected McCain’s invitation to hold joint town hall meetings — opening the door to the kind of tawdry exchange of charges that we have seen.

This is, almost word for word, the argument that John McCain has made since August to explain why he felt it necessary to take his sleazy campaign into the gutter. And like McCain, Broder is terribly mistaken.

For Broder and McCain, the presidential campaign would be respectful and substantive if only McCain had gotten to know Obama better by sharing a stage with him. Debates, they argue, discourage “tawdry exchange of charges.”

But this doesn’t make sense. 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.”

Indeed, Obama and McCain shared a stage three times, totaling more than four-and-a-half hours, including a town-hall-style debate. They also met at Saddleback Church, at the ServiceNation forum on Sept. 11, and shared a dais at the Al Smith dinner.

Did this lead McCain to clean up his act? Not even a little. After their joint appearances, McCain got even sleazier, running repugnant robocalls nationwide.

Broder is under the false impression that it’s Obama’s fault that McCain has run a dishonorable campaign. It’s an argument without foundation in reality.

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.