Bill O’Reilly gave John McCain an opportunity to take up the cudgel of Jeremiah Wright and William Ayers against Barack Obama, but McCain passed on it, for the most part. He told O’Reilly last night that he wants to run a high-road campaign, even while Obama gave a thinly-veiled suggestion that McCain had reached senility. McCain’s answer will likely continue the frustration Republicans feel with his unwillingness to discuss Obama’s pattern of ties to rabid anti-American demagogues and worse:

This high-road approach may not last much longer, if Obama keeps up his attacks on McCain’s age. As Soren Dayton notes, that will almost certainly continue. Soren punctures the myth of Obama’s own commitment to the high road, noting that Obama didn’t mind using sexist terms to deride Hillary Clinton:

I want to point remind you of one of the great un(der)reported stories of the Democratic Primary, Barack Obama’s sexist attacks on Hillary Clinton.

Jake Tapper first noted this when Obama said that Hillary was “taking out the claws.” At the same time he noted that Obama would use “[l]anguage such as ‘when she’s feeling down’ ‘periodically’ she ‘launches attacks.'” Tapper noted that a number of female reporters and bloggers picked up on this. Later Obama complained that Hillary was “throwing the China” at him. Again, Tapper heard the dog whistle. Tapper noted that this “feeds into the ‘harridan‘ caricature of Clinton.”

Quite obviously, we can expect more of this kind of campaigning from Obama and his team. Does McCain believe that he can beat Obama by delivering the positive campaign and exposing Obama’s false promises of one? If so, he may be in for a rude awakening — the press simply won’t report it. Besides Jake Tapper, how many other political reporters have noticed the sexist themes from the Obama campaign?

On the other hand, McCain may want to focus on issues now and prepare for infighting later, during the general campaign, when it will do more damage. That could be a smart strategy, staying above the fray as long as Hillary Clinton keeps aggressively punching at Obama’s image. That has already opened many avenues for later attack and has transformed Obama’s image from a political Messiah to an elitist intellectual somewhat out of touch with mainstream America, damage Obama did to himself in equal measure.

If that’s his strategy, then McCain had better refrain from categorical disavowals of using the Wright and Ayers issues in the general election. And if one listens carefully, McCain never really does say that the topics will not arise; in fact, he points out that Obama has already acknowledged the legitimacy of Wright as a campaign issue, and Obama still has a full-throated defense of Ayers on his campaign website. Let’s hope McCain has left the opening for a reason.