Thursday, February 21, 2008

McCain's Commitments

I am willing, for now at least, to give John McCain the benefit of the doubt on whether he actually had extra-marital sex with a lobbyist, as the now-famous New York Times article rather periphrastically implies. I don't care about John McCain's sex life, and actually I'd prefer not to think of it at all. Insofar as the media saturation forces me to think about it, I am pleased that nothing appears to have happened in public restrooms, and that it seems to have involved consenting adults. Still, ew.

I grant this because, to my knowledge -- perhaps only by undeserved reputation -- McCain has not been among the screaming moralistic zealots of the Wide Stance party. He had this to say when voting for conviction during president Clinton's impeachment:

I do not desire to sit in judgement of the President's private misconduct. It is truly a matter for him and his family to resolve. I sincerely wish circumstances had allowed the President to keep his personal life private. I have done things in my private life that I am not proud of. I suspect many of us have. But we are not asked to judge the President's character flaws. We are asked to judge whether the President, who swore an oath to faithfully execute his office, deliberately subverted--for whatever purpose--the rule of law.
I think this is a few steps short of actual straight talk -- the Clinton impeachment was, from first to last, an exercise in using personalized attacks as a proxy for political differences -- but by the standards of the rhetoric of that impeachment, this is a passable rationale for a 'convict' vote. So I am willing to move on from McCain's private life.

Accordingly, there are bigger matters afoot. McCain's statement in response to the story includes a rather bold assertion that does go to the heart of his self-presentation as a maverick politician of exceptional integrity:
John McCain has a 24-year record of serving our country with honor and integrity. He has never violated the public trust, never done favors for special interests or lobbyists, and he will not allow a smear campaign to distract from the issues at stake in this election. "Americans are sick and tired of this kind of gutter politics ..." [emphasis mine]
Never is a strong word, and I would be amazed if this claim can stand up to scrutiny. He should be held to account for the truthfulness of that claim.

The other claim is just as strong: that he will not allow a smear campaign to distract from the issues. Note that he does not specify the smear campaign currently under discussion. He should be held accountable to his commitment to keep smear campaigns -- "gutter politics" -- from distracting from the issues. If he only applies that standard in his own defense, then he will prove to be dishonest and hypocritical, contrary to the "maverick with integrity" persona on which his candidacy is so centrally based.

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