Apparently, John McCain doesn’t like the asinine emphasis on Barack Obama’s middle name any more than Obama himself. After talk-radio host Bill Cunningham introduced McCain at a Cincinnati rally, the presumptive Republican nominee apologized for the disrespectful tone taken by his emcee. Allahpundit has the video in this post where McCain explicitly repudiates Cunningham’s repartee — and the audio where Cunningham returns the favor, but here’s the quote:

“I apologize for it,” McCain told reporters, addressing the issue before they had a chance to ask the Arizona senator about Cunningham’s comments.

“I did not know about these remarks but I take responsibility for them. I repudiate them,” he said. “My entire campaign I have treated Senator Obama and Senator (Hillary Rodham) Clinton with respect. I will continue to do that throughout this campaign.

McCain called both Democrats “honorable Americans” and said “I want to dissociate myself with any disparaging remarks that may have been said about them.”

Let’s just start off by acknowledging what Cunningham didn’t or wouldn’t admit — the emphasis on “Hussein” in remarking about Obama isn’t intended on ensuring proper identification. It’s a rather naked and intellectually dishonest way to play on the Obama-as-crypto-Muslim meme and/or engage in a little free association with Saddam. It’s a clever ploy, one that allows the purveyor to say (as Cunningham did later), “Hey, I’m just using his real name!” as a dodge for what he really had in mind.

Some may disagree, but I consider that both politically and intellectually lazy. It overshadowed some other perfectly legitimate and serious issues, and in this race, issues will be the key. Playing games and appealing to fear won’t win this election — or else Hillary Clinton would be beating Obama like a bass drum in a Fourth of July parade already.

McCain got handed an opportunity today, and he made the most of it. He could have shrugged off Cunningham’s introduction, but instead he chose to make it an issue before the press could do it. McCain repudiated the attack and emphasized that he would not allow his campaign to pursue that kind of politicking. In doing so, he set the stage for the general election and established the kind of credibility he will need to aggressively pursue Obama’s record and lack of experience.

McCain’s repudiation of this tactic gives him the credibility to claim that debating Obama’s record won’t be a stealth attack on his heritage. It makes it very difficult to paint McCain as dishonorable in deed or intent later in the campaign, when McCain has to aggressively attack Obama’s agenda and his standard Left-liberal platform. If he didn’t repudiate Cunningham, every contrast he painted on the stump between himself and Obama would be tainted by that lapse.

McCain passed his test. And as Allahpundit suggests, his campaign should probably try harder to avoid these tests in the future.