'The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about," Oscar Wilde once said, and that is the problem the John McCain campaign is now grappling with.
Over the past few days, Mitt Romney has been attacking Rudy Giuliani (and vice versa), and Fred Thompson has been attacking Mike Huckabee (and vice versa), but who has been attacking McCain?
In politics, you don't draw attacks for only two reasons: You are a saint or you are irrelevant.
According to the Real Clear Politics Poll Averages, McCain is in fourth place nationally, fifth place in Iowa, third place in New Hampshire and fourth place in South Carolina. So he could use some buzz, even if it's in the form of an attack.
McCain now has an ad running in which he says, "Since I have been in Washington, I've made a lot of people angry."
I think he wishes that people were even angrier with him these days. And talking about him.
The McCain campaign hosted a luncheon Monday for about a dozen reporters in McCain's vast, underpopulated headquarters in Arlington, Va. (It is the entire top floor of an office building, and the campaign, after drastically cutting back on spending, is seeking to lease out half of it.)
McCain began by talking about Iraq. He had spent Thanksgiving there, meeting with U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and others.
McCain said that Petraeus was "upbeat but cautious" and that Petraeus thinks there might be a "bit of an uptick in violence" in Iraq because Al Qaeda is being "driven out."
McCain said that suicide bombers are "hard to stop," there is "still an enormous amount of corruption" plaguing the country and the al-Maliki government was bloated with "41 ministers."
"Whoever designed that government ought to be shot," McCain said in a flash of the old, irreverent McCain. (A reporter then suggested that somebody might have been.)
"I have extremely guarded optimism that maybe this government, in a halting, faltering way, will move forward," McCain said.
He said that the overall assessment he got from those on the ground in Iraq was "guardedly optimistic."
"I did not detect a sense of euphoria," McCain said. "It is kind of like a window of opportunity. So we will see, we will see."
McCain made no mention of the fact that, along with worrying about Iraq, he was also running for president of the United States, and so I asked him if an improving situation in Iraq would improve his chances here.
"I worry about a lot of things," he said, "but that is not one of them."
He did point out, however, how he had been right about supporting a troop surge in Iraq while others had been wrong.
"John Edwards used to call it the 'McCain strategy' and the 'McCain surge,'" McCain said. "He doesn't anymore. I wish he would."
McCain pointed to his own experience in world affairs and said that Rudy Giuliani "has never been to Iraq" and was "fired, removed or resigned" from the Iraq Study Group after missing its first three meetings.
Asked about the race for the Republican nomination, McCain said he still has "a great deal of work to do in Iowa," that he "must do very well in New Hampshire" and that his support earlier this year for comprehensive immigration reform "still hurts us in South Carolina."
New Hampshire, which McCain won overwhelmingly in 2000, is his best hope, and a recent
CNN/WMUR poll there showed him climbing ahead of Giuliani and into second place behind Romney.
McCain said he respected and liked Giuliani, Thompson and Huckabee.
When asked if he also respected Romney, McCain pointedly replied: "I have never known him."
So maybe Romney will at least do him the courtesy of attacking him.