So the news of the late afternoon is that the New York Times is running a story tomorrow on McCain and ethics that opens with a discussion of his relationship with an attractive lobbyist. The article offers no actual evidence that they had an affair, and has denials from McCain and the lobbyist that their relationship was anything but proper (well, proper in the context of politics). But the article seems calculated to leave the impression that there is some there there. Though ostensibly the article discusses how McCain's aggressive personality has gotten him near or into ethics hot water, it leads with what should be a non-story — that in 2000 his aides were terrified about his relationship with this lobbyist:
Early in Senator John McCain’s first run for the White House eight years ago, waves of anxiety swept through his small circle of advisers.
A female lobbyist had been turning up with him at fund-raisers, visiting his offices and accompanying him on a client’s corporate jet. Convinced the relationship had become romantic, some of his top advisers intervened to protect the candidate from himself — instructing staff members to block the woman’s access, privately warning her away and repeatedly confronting him, several people involved in the campaign said on the condition of anonymity.
When news organizations reported that Mr. McCain had written letters to government regulators on behalf of the lobbyist’s client, the former campaign associates said, some aides feared for a time that attention would fall on her involvement.
Mr. McCain, 71, and the lobbyist, Vicki Iseman, 40, both say they never had a romantic relationship. But to his advisers, even the appearance of a close bond with a lobbyist whose clients often had business before the Senate committee Mr. McCain led threatened the story of redemption and rectitude that defined his political identity.
The article ends with a reference to Iseman as well, and thoughtfully runs a flattering picture of her. The middle is taken up with discussions of more significant things like the Keating Five scandal.
Now, I've read some defenses of the article that suggest the references to the lobbyist are fair game because the story there is that he was showing favor to a lobbyist. I don't buy it. In terms of scandalous favors of the non-sexual variety, the Keating affair is more significant by several orders of magnitude. The people at the NYT, whatever else you can say about them, aren't stupid or bad at writing. They led with the hot lobbyist because sex sells — and the article is more piquant if it leads with a suggestion that McCain's aides were worried he was cheating, whether or not there is any evidence that there was. They knew — they had to know — that this would trigger a few news cycles about McCain's relationship with this woman – not as a lobbyist, but as an alleged lover. They knew the impact their chosen frame would have, and went with it. That makes it seem like a hit piece to me.
It also makes me nostalgic for the nineties and all the discussions of infidelity that swirled around Bill Clinton. It appears that there's no substance here at all, let alone in comparison to horndog Bill's behavior. But it would be interesting to see how the Republicans would react when the infidelity allegations were against their candidate rather than the Dem candidate. I suspect that they wouldn't go as far as to buy into the pro-Bill "sexual matters are private and not relevant in public life" argument, and would fall back on "the issue was the perjury" instead.
Were the NYT's insinuation true, I would feel about McCain the same as I feel about Clinton on this subject. It's a position that's drawn sharp disagreement from some, including some of my co-bloggers here. Here it is: I couldn't care less if McCain and his wife had a private agreement that he could nail six lobbyists, four staffers, a pollster and a trained ferret. That's their business. However, if he cheated on her, then I think he's untrustworthy, and would take that into account in assessing his suitability as a leader. Judgmental? Possibly. But legitimately so, I think. I don't buy into the premise that someone who would betray an important private-sector relationship would not also betray an important public-sector relationship. I don't think character flaws are compartmentalized like that.
That said, McCain's relationships with people like Keating are far more important to my evaluation of him than his relationships with anyone he illicitly nailed.
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