ALL THE NEWS THAT’S FIT TO PRINT – AND MORE!You might think that today my mind would be on the two Democrats who debated Thursday night in
I am a daily subscriber to the Times, and I still consider it
Picture yourself as a statesman who is married but whose job involves meeting lots and lots of people, many of whom are attractive, single women. Then imagine that you legitimately come to like one of those women, enough to want to get together with her socially – maybe have dinner at nice restaurants. You never sleep with her, you never even kiss her, but your staff gets nervous about the fact that you go out alone with her. And a couple of members of that staff, without being willing to identify themselves for the record, tell a newspaper many years later that they suspect you had an affair. You’re asked about the so-called “affair” and you deny it, as does your friend, which only makes sense, since your relationship with her was strictly Platonic.
Does that sound newsworthy? Does that sound worthy of a newspaper story insinuating that the statesman has had extra-marital, sexual relations with a lobbyist for whose clients he then does extraordinary political favors? It may be that the politician did go too far in helping his friend’s clients … but how does that prove that the statesman and his friend actually slept together? The New York Times provided no evidence that John McCain’s 1999 relationship with Vicki Iseman was any different than what was described in the previous paragraph – and yet the paper saw fit to suggest that the two had a “romantic relationship.” No physical evidence was gathered to support such an allegation, no evidence of the two sharing the same hotel room, no witnesses who identified themselves as knowing about this relationship … and not even anonymous witnesses who claimed to have definitive knowledge that McCain and Iseman were physically involved with one another. Still, our nation’s pre-eminent newspaper thought it was appropriate to print the story. If it weren’t so pathetic, it might even be funny.
What in the name of Oliver Cromwell is going on? Have we reached the point where we not only condemn extra-marital sex, but we condemn any kind of close friendship between a married man and a younger, single woman? From what I can tell, the New York Times has gathered evidence that McCain had such a friendship with a lobbyist. From comparing pictures of Iseman and McCain’s wife, I would even be willing to infer that McCain thought Iseman was physically attractive. This is news? This is worthy of sexual innuendos? You might think that the Times ran this story to ruin McCain’s chances, but you’d be wrong. It actually held the story for many weeks until McCain had sewn up his party’s nomination. Apparently, the story wasn’t so much politically motivated as it was motivated by the desire to share with the public a genuinely newsworthy set of facts (and innuendo). That’s what I find so shocking. The editors of the Times really think we should want to know about who may be screwing whom in
“Well, OK,” the Times’ editors might want to say now, in the aftermath of the firestorm that their story has created. “Maybe we shouldn’t have played up the whole possible-sex angle. Maybe we should have stuck with the idea that back in 1999, John McCain – Mr. “I’ll take on the lobbyists” – took extraordinary measures to help out the client of a lobbyist with whom he was close friends. That’s newsworthy, isn’t it?”'
Sure it is. I would have had no problem with the Times printing such an article, and in hindsight, the Times’ editors probably wish they had printed that one instead. But the real question is that, even had the Times ignored the possibility of a sexual relationship and demonstrated with undeniable evidence that back in 1999 McCain allowed a personal friendship to cloud his judgment on behalf of a lobbyist’s client, what should the significance be of Mr. McCain’s misconduct? Should it effectively disqualify him from the White House? Should we start looking at the man not as a hero, but rather as a sleaze? My answer is “No, no, 1000 times no!”
I’m a Democrat, a liberal Democrat, and a person who is scared by John McCain’s vision of an endless war in
Happily, from what I can tell, virtually everyone I know – Democrat as well as Republican -- agrees with me that the McCain story, whether it be about extra-marital sex or giving inappropriate favors to lobbyists is just not that big a deal. And that reflects what might be the general mood of this election season. In Barack Obama and John McCain, we have a couple of politicians who are quite obviously so fundamentally decent that we Americans might actually be willing to cut them some slack. I support investigative reporters seeking out the stories about those mistakes and reporting them, but I would be willing to stipulate that all politicians have done a few things they wish they hadn’t, and I’m sick and tired of thinking of them as scumbags simply because they haven’t been moral exemplars every day of their adult lives.
McCain isn’t the only one getting the benefit of a few doubts. Just as the public is ignoring his alleged peccadilloes, so too is the Democratic electorate ignoring Hillary Clinton’s last ditch efforts to badmouth Obama. One minute he’s supposedly “plagiarizing,” the next minute he’s said to have authorized statements about her health care program that he “knows” to be false. “J’accuse!” says Hillary. “Wake me up when you stop acting like a desperate loser,” is the near-universal response.
It is no exaggeration to say that we find ourselves at a crossroads as a nation in terms of our political discourse. We can either remain in the era of Willie Horton and Whitewater, of Swiftboating and scandal, of incessant ridicule, of strawmen, and of slime. Or, we can treat our political candidates like they are presumed to be honorable, and look to see which one, if treated with respect by both political parties, could actually deliver the best changes for