February 22, 2008

The McCain Mutiny

Whatever else one says about it, at least the story of John McCain's reported affair with lobbyist Vicki Iseman (what a great name for an Other Woman) is fun. It isn't fun to contemplate this latter-day Captain Queeg actually sitting in the Oval Office. He strikes me as yet another intellectual dilettante with narcissistic deficiencies similar to the current occupant of the White House: McCain seems unaware that we're aware that he's unaware that we're on to his whole phony game of pretending to be an honest "straight-talker." This is more or less exactly the same mistake the country made in 2000, and if we make it again...

So the press and the public are pretending to be utterly engrossed in whether Johnny Mac was "warned" in an "intervention" by his "staff" that his relationship with Ms. Iseman "appeared inappropriate." All these words are in quotes because this is the way the game is being played. McCain, who may have been warned by "associates" who were not technically "staff," is artfully engaging in etymological niceties that make Bill Clinton's meditation on the meaning of "is" seem candid and forthcoming by comparison. In his brief remarks yesterday, McCain reassured everyone that he had done nothing to "betray the country," which seems a little off the main point, yet it's hard to take all his words in their full context without reaching the conclusion that he's saying, believe it or not, "I never had sex with that woman, that Ms. Iseman."

David Brooks of the New York Times, the paper which started all this, lays the whole thing off on a rivalry among McCain staff members that led one of them to mutiny. Brooks then stated that McCain's "career will be over" if it turns out he actually had an affair. As this thing has developed, I think that's right, because McCain has decided he has to stonewall this thing and hope no one can prove he's lying.

So to review a few basic rules about men and adultery: Men are not accused of having affairs; they have affairs. McCain obviously spent too much time around Vicki Iseman and the inevitable happened. A man's sexual fidelity is like the capsizing of a sailboat; the trick is to avoid reaching that angle of critical heel, which will always occur with the right combination of familiarity and opportunity, such as traveling together on a private jet to a remote location. This is asking for it, and McCain, after all, left his first wife for his present wife as the result of an affair with his present wife, although it was his present wife at the podium yesterday assuring everyone that McCain would never do what he had obviously done with her. Remarkably, Mrs. McCain's head did not explode during her brief remarks.

The Straight Talker has now hired noted go-to mouthpiece Robert Bennett to stage manage the complexities of his forthright denial. The reasons for this can be figured out: there is the implied threat of a defamation suit if anyone takes the story to the next level and states unequivocally that McCain had an affair; and, using the attorney-client and work product privileges to keep everything discreet, Bennett can talk to all the players for McCain and help them get their stories straight. Remember that Clinton's weasel-out foundered when Monica started talking to Linda Tripp, plus Monica's decision to save a little Presidential Splooge on her blue dress as a fond keepsake of happier times under the Oval Office desk. In this sense, McCain's co-respondent is a better choice: quieter, more worldly, definitely way north of legal age. Maybe she's a "collector;" just a hunch. Iseman is maintaining a very low profile, probably confining her remarks on the matter to conversations with Robert S. Bennett, Esq.

So to sum up in a way that Bennett cannot find actionable: I think McCain was boinking Iseman, which is significant ethically only if it influenced his judgment on matters pending before Senate committees involving the two of them, but is significant electorally because it's game-over for the Express if the facts come to light. There is probably no way to prove the affair conclusively unless one of the two principals admits it, which is not going to happen. That is why the Times has confined itself to circumstantial evidence and the suspicions of staffers; however, the presence of this smoke probably indicates a major forest fire somewhere. There is always the possibility of a bombshell - an eyewitness hotel clerk, a bartender who saw the two of them nuzzling. The usual mistakes the lovestruck make. As far as Honest John is concerned, he doesn't care how he gets out of it as long as he gets out of it, and as the lone survivor of the Keating Five, he might just wriggle out again.

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