A crocus pushing through long-dormant earth signals spring. A Frank Rich column focusing on something other than The Clintons —might it signal that the general election is almost afoot?

In yesterday’s New York Times, Rich zeroed in on McCain and Iraq (what McCain has said and what he might do) and comes to this conclusion: “The difference between the Democrats and Mr. McCain going forward is clear enough: They want to find a way out of the morass, however provisional and imperfect, and he equates staying the disastrous course with patriotism.”

Rich begins and ends his column by scolding Clinton and Obama for claiming, in some variation, that McCain wants to keep the Iraq war going for another 100 years. “The Democrats,” Rich writes, should “stop repeating their 100-years-war calumny against Mr. McCain” (see Campaign Desk on the same) because “there’s too much at stake for America for them to add their own petty distortions to an epic tragedy that only a long-overdue national reckoning with hard truths can bring to an end.”

Sounds about right. And I gather Rich himself, going forward, will also refrain from “repeating” it, as he did in a February 17, 2008 column (emphasis mine)?

Even by the low standards of his party, Mr. McCain has underperformed at reaching millennials in the thriving culture where they live. His campaign’s effort to create a MySpace-like Web site flopped. His most-viewed appearances on YouTube are not viral videos extolling him or replaying his best speeches but are instead sendups of his most reckless foreign-policy improvisations — his threat to stay in Iraq for 100 years and his jokey warning (sung to the tune of the Beach Boys’ version of ”Barbara Ann”) that he will bomb Iran…

Hey, it makes for a striking talking point for a stump speech or a column.

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.