DURING THIS SAME WEEK that Barack Obama clinched the majority of pledged Democratic Party delegates, the presidential mash-up was more frenzied than ever. But not between Obama and Hillary Clinton. No. It was a knockdown, blood-on-the-floor, caged grudge match between Clinton and McCain to see who could more brutally beat the American process into utter stupidity.

Work before pleasure, so I’ll bag first on Johnny Mack.

When straight-talkin’ McCain saw a fifth lobbyist resign from his campaign staff, he did what any crooked politician would do. He changed the subject. All of a sudden it was nonstop wanking from McCain about a totally fictional tête-à-tête between Osama Obama and Iranian President Whateverajad. That is, until later in the week, when a hypertensive McCain was thumping Obama for a not-yet consummated sit-down with Fidel Castro. Forget about the fact that El Lider Maximo is probably no longer capable of sitting up straight in a chair, but McCain’s blatantly hypocritical appeal to fear, his joining in the chorus with George W. Bush (architect of our greatest foreign-policy disaster in a generation) to suggest that Obama would be “reckless” enough to sell out America in a chitchat with the mullahs is, frankly, stomach turning.

There was a time when I would have expected a bit more dignity from McCain. But that moment, unfortunately, is long gone. He’s free to “draw all the distinctions” he wants between himself and the junior senator from Illinois. Arguing that he has more experience, a steadier hand, a better understanding of global relations — whatever — than Obama, would be fair game.

The intellectual dishonesty of this current ploy, however, is just stunning. McCain may not be quite the global genius some of his supporters claim, but he’s smart enough to know that when Obama has spoken of negotiating with our enemies he was only referring to off-the-shelf conventional superpower diplomacy of the sort ritually practiced until, oh, about seven years ago. Indeed, it was McCain himself who played a key role in normalizing U.S. relations with Vietnam, and with no preconditions that the Communist dictatorship first resign. How he could stand before TV cameras, as he did this week, and hysterically warn that Obama was about to cede Miami to Havana was beyond the pale.

It was no accident that Obama immediately returned McCain’s fire — and with a certain gusto. The virtual Democratic nominee knew instinctively that McCain had stumbled into his own ambush. With 80 percent of Americans now saying the country is on the wrong track, and with $4-a-gallon gas a stark, daily reminder of these economically uncertain times, McCain had picked the wrong issue to jump-start the general-election campaign. After Bush had blundered by blustering about appeasement in the Israeli Knesset, McCain — if he were smart — should have taken the opportunity to separate himself from a smoldering, smoking White House and condemned the president for his cheap shot. Instead, McCain handcuffed himself to Dubya’s corpse.

Fine by me. More power to McCain in this dead-end strategy, which has about as much chance of success as do the policies he supports in Iraq. The only troubling part of this scenario is that if McCain is this desperate before Memorial Day, just imagine how deep into the muck we’re all gonna be come Labor Day.

WHICH BRINGS ME to the second half of this week’s political equation. While McCain was skimming the moral low ground, guess who he bumped into down there on the bottom? Why, it was Comrade Clinton! Hillary, Glorious Protector of the Oppressed Territories of Florida and Michigan! Stalwart Defender of Waitresses, Janitors, Coal Miners and, presumably, the Kronstadt Sailors! I swear, I almost drove off the side of Topanga Canyon the day of the Kentucky and Oregon primaries as I was listening to the political coverage on XM radio and heard one of her surrogates make the preposterous claim that Hillary was being cheated out of the nomination because she had actually won the popular vote (which is true only if you count the nonelection in Michigan, where there was no one else on the ballot, if you don’t count the tens of thousands of Democrats who voted with their feet in myriad caucus states and if you subtract your IQ and body mass index). I got so angry I punched the station button to C-SPAN radio and ran right into Chairwoman Clinton herself, claiming — are you ready? — that because of the geography of her victory, she had won more “electoral votes” than Obama.

Whaaatt? There’s no crying in baseball, and there are no electoral votes in party primaries. Except that Hillary actually stated some number she pulled out of her, um, talking points.

No matter. As they said in Goodfellas, “She’s gone now.” Good riddance to her. And, soon enough, to John McCain.

LA Weekly