McCain faces harsh ethics questions from article

Sen. John McCain’s campaign has been on fire for the better part of this election cycle. Despite a lot of dissent from the most conservative element of the Republican Party, McCain received an excellent reception on the campaign trail. After a great showing in the early primaries, he widened the gap so far that Mitt Romney, who was seen by many as the second leading contender for the party nomination, suspended his campaign – surprising many. Don’t be surprised if we hear from Romney in another four years; he likely pulled the plug early to keep the battery charged.

So with McCain’s only competition being Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who’s trailing far behind in delegates (but not in Chuck Norris’ support), it seemed to be clear sailing for McCain all the way to the Republican National Convention. With his future so bright that John McCain has to don the proverbial shades, what could possibly go wrong?

In a Feb. 21 article, The New York Times went to great lengths in an attempt to derail the McCain train. Their ammo: eight-year-old news about an alleged improper relationship that may have occurred between McCain and a lobbyist named Vicki Iseman. Did I mention this was eight years ago?

The article seems not far removed from a typical political smear campaign. The difference here is that no political party is funding this particular piece of negative publicity. Well, unless you count The New York Times as a liberal organization.

McCain and his wife, Cindy, were forced to take a defensive stance regarding the article. They called a press conference the day of the article’s publication, both denying any truth to the accusations – at least as far as the infidelity was concerned.

The funny s thing is that the article itself has drawn more attention than the improprieties it alleges. True, the article raised excellent questions about McCain’s devotion to ethics reform, but did they have to do it in such an underhanded way?

The focus that seems to have developed concerning the article is on the fact that it suggests there might have been this romantic connection between McCain and Iseman. It may seem contradictory, but if the goal of the piece was to question McCain’s ethics, suggesting infidelity was an incredibly bad call. By implying that McCain had an unproven affair eight years ago, The New York Times ensured that the rest of the article would be completely ignored in the media blitz.

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The article makes a few very good points about the shortcomings and inconsistencies that contributed to McCain’s loss in the 2000 presidential primaries, though. Without even insinuating adultery, McCain’s close relationship with a lobbyist – during a time when he was running a campaign against special interests – was contradictory to his stated objectives.

What seems to have most commentators in an uproar about the article is its timing, and the simultaneous lack thereof. It does seem an odd choice for The New York Times to run such a highly defamatory article on McCain at this stage of the primaries, especially considering the time frame of the issues at hand. The Keating Five scandal brought up in the article happened almost twenty years ago; McCain’s relationship with Iseman – whatever level it reached – is almost ten years past. These issues would have been more relevant to McCain’s 2000 campaign than the here and now. Where’s the kairos?

In what just may become the most surprising result of the Times article, McCain’s campaign manager has asked for increased donations to combat the negative publicity, hoping to create a conservative rallying point around McCain to fight back against the liberal media. I’ll be curious to see how some of the pundits react to this. Who does Rush Limbaugh hate more, John McCain or The New York Times?

This article has the potential to create a movement that could either bolster or destroy McCain’s support at the Republican National Convention. There is a third option, however. There is always the possibility that many, like myself, will simply find this article an ill-advised move at an inopportune time. There’s very little chance that McCain could be stopped shy of the party nomination at this point, so why bother smearing his reputation?

If The New York Times wanted to do real damage, they could have waited until the election to remind everyone of McCain’s questionable past activities. If they’re not interested in harming McCain, why write an article that calls his ethics into question and uses such dated evidence?

I think this particular land mine is going to turn out to be a dud. Still, there is always the possibility that McCain’s attempts to head off catastrophe will fail, or that the press conference he held Feb. 21 will end up drawing even more attention to the issue.

After all, McCain did vote in favor of impeaching President Bill Clinton during the scandal following his alleged affair with Monica Lewinski. If the allegations concerning Iseman prove true, I for one wouldn’t be able to help wondering if there’s a bit of karma at play here.