Thursday, February 21, 2008

Love of a Lobbyist?

The New York Times has published an odd article about John McCain's past:

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 story is odd because it skirts around the question whether McCain had an affair or not and whether any such affair would have made him less ethical in his treatment of Ms. Iseman's clients. Why so fluffy a piece?

Josh Marshall has some ideas about that:

At the moment it seems to me that we have a story from the Times that reads like it's had most of the meat lawyered out of it. And a lot of miscellany and fluff has been packed in where the meat was. Still, if the Times sources are to be believed, the staff thought he was having an affair with Iseman and when confronted about it he in so many words conceded that he was (much of course hangs on 'behaving inappropriately' but then, doesn't it always?) and promised to shape up. And whatever the personal relationship it was a stem wound about a lobbying branch.

This particular aspect of politics bores me to sleep. I tried writing about it to see if doing so would make it more interesting, but no. Yes, I understand that the candidates must be vetted and studied and that there is now open season for anyone who wishes to hunt for skeletons in their closets, and yes, I understand why something like this might kneecap McCain fairly effectively in the eyes of certain types of voters. I also can get the intellectual excitement of wondering why the story was allowed to come out now, rather than earlier or later, given that the timing does matter in the amount of damage the McCain campaign incurs.

But the criticism I find most convincing about McCain has to do with the policies he supports, not with whatever skeletons he might be hiding.