ARC's 1st Law: As a "progressive" online discussion grows longer, the probability of a nefarious reference to Karl Rove approaches one

Thursday, February 21, 2008

McCain strength attacked by the paper that endorsed him

The "news" that the Times finds fit to print:

The Long Run
For McCain, Self-Confidence on Ethics Poses Its Own Risk

WASHINGTON — 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.

It had been just a decade since an official favor for a friend with regulatory problems had nearly ended Mr. McCain’s political career by ensnaring him in the Keating Five scandal. In the years that followed, he reinvented himself as the scourge of special interests, a crusader for stricter ethics and campaign finance rules, a man of honor chastened by a brush with shame.

But the concerns about Mr. McCain’s relationship with Ms. Iseman underscored an enduring paradox of his post-Keating career. Even as he has vowed to hold himself to the highest ethical standards, his confidence in his own integrity has sometimes seemed to blind him to potentially embarrassing conflicts of interest.

Mr. McCain promised, for example, never to fly directly from Washington to Phoenix, his hometown, to avoid the impression of self-interest because he sponsored a law that opened the route nearly a decade ago. But like other lawmakers, he often flew on the corporate jets of business executives seeking his support, including the media moguls Rupert Murdoch, Michael R. Bloomberg and Lowell W. Paxson, Ms. Iseman’s client. (Last year he voted to end the practice.)

Mr. McCain helped found a nonprofit group to promote his personal battle for tighter campaign finance rules. But he later resigned as its chairman after news reports disclosed that the group was tapping the same kinds of unlimited corporate contributions he opposed, including those from companies seeking his favor. He has criticized the cozy ties between lawmakers and lobbyists, but is relying on corporate lobbyists to donate their time running his presidential race and recently hired a lobbyist to run his Senate office.

“He is essentially an honorable person,” said William P. Cheshire, a friend of Mr. McCain who as editorial page editor of The Arizona Republic defended him during the Keating Five scandal. “But he can be imprudent.”

Mr. Cheshire added, “That imprudence or recklessness may be part of why he was not more astute about the risks he was running with this shady operator,” Charles Keating, whose ties to Mr. McCain and four other lawmakers tainted their reputations in the savings and loan debacle.

During his current campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, Mr. McCain has played down his attacks on the corrupting power of money in politics, aware that the stricter regulations he championed are unpopular in his party. When the Senate overhauled lobbying and ethics rules last year, Mr. McCain stayed in the background.

With his nomination this year all but certain, though, he is reminding voters again of his record of reform. His campaign has already begun comparing his credentials with those of Senator Barack Obama, a Democratic contender who has made lobbying and ethics rules a centerpiece of his own pitch to voters.
Mr. Black said Mr. McCain and Ms. Iseman were friends and nothing more. But in 1999 she began showing up so frequently in his offices and at campaign events that staff members took notice. One recalled asking, “Why is she always around?”

That February, Mr. McCain and Ms. Iseman attended a small fund-raising dinner with several clients at the Miami-area home of a cruise-line executive and then flew back to Washington along with a campaign aide on the corporate jet of one of her clients, Paxson Communications. By then, according to two former McCain associates, some of the senator’s advisers had grown so concerned that the relationship had become romantic that they took steps to intervene.

A former campaign adviser described being instructed to keep Ms. Iseman away from the senator at public events, while a Senate aide recalled plans to limit Ms. Iseman’s access to his offices.

In interviews, the two former associates said they joined in a series of confrontations with Mr. McCain, warning him that he was risking his campaign and career. Both said Mr. McCain acknowledged behaving inappropriately and pledged to keep his distance from Ms. Iseman. The two associates, who said they had become disillusioned with the senator, spoke independently of each other and provided details that were corroborated by others.

Separately, a top McCain aide met with Ms. Iseman at Union Station in Washington to ask her to stay away from the senator. John Weaver, a former top strategist and now an informal campaign adviser, said in an e-mail message that he arranged the meeting after “a discussion among the campaign leadership” about her.

“Our political messaging during that time period centered around taking on the special interests and placing the nation’s interests before either personal or special interest,” Mr. Weaver continued. “Ms. Iseman’s involvement in the campaign, it was felt by us, could undermine that effort.”

Thinly sourced red meat from the paper that endorsed McCain. No actual charge or evidence that there was an affair, just a concern by former (now ticked off) staff aides that it had turned into one.

Speculation is that the Times had this information and was holding it from print as they endorsed him. The Times will now be under pressure to name the individuals who are making this charge and a full hearing of the details is in order - hotel receipts, pictures of the two in a warm embrace, and phone logs should be required. Heck, the Dems still didn't believe that Bill had an affair when a DNA stained dress was uncovered - you'd think they'd be interested in some degree of evidence.

All I have to say is that this is a pure Rovian play - identify your opponents strength and turn it into his weakness. This is what Rove did with Kerry in 2004 (war record) and Gore in 2000 (wonkish dweeb). McCain's constant attacks against the corrupting influence of lobbyists set him up nicely for this downfall.

It really is a shame that that Romney guy was "too good looking, too goody-two-shoes" for our party's nomination.

Is this the reason that Huckabee has been hanging on in the campaign? Perhaps it's why he's been so cordial with McCain, knowing that he would fall in due time. I assume that many of the candidates knew that the Times had this story, but felt it was outside of the bounds for them to raise the issue in the primaries.

All Hail President Obama!

Captain Ed is also covering, attacking the Times' thin sourcing. Malkin thinks this is fitting, given that McCain tried to partner with the MSM for so long. And Don Surber makes the strong case that the Times is hypocritical, since sex is private.

Your Co-Conspirator,
ARC: St Wendeler

ARC: Brian adds

I disagree a little with your point, Saint. This is not a Rovian play by the New York Times. Like a Grand Master in chess, Karl Rove was able to see the follow on moves.

McCain's biggest weakness, as MSM outlets were happy to point out over the last few weeks, was the base. The talk-radio listening, MSM hating base. And the New York Times just delivered McCain a big fat present all but wrapped up in a bow. In my short drive this morning, talk radio was filled with discussions defending John McCain, and blasting the New York Times. This will give the base something with which to rally around McCain.

A Rovian move would have been for the New York Times to have spiked the story on McCain's bombshell, and then let the rumor out that they had spiked it to defend him. That would have had the base running from him. But then, that wouldn't have helped the editors on the New York cocktail party circuit.

Reading through the article I'm struck how many times the word "Keating" is used. 17 times. And nowhere are the names of the 4 Democratic senators mentioned A search of the New York Times for the previous year of articles that mention McCain and Keating, show's only 3 hits. One is an op-ed by Christopher Buckley, "The Manchurian Candidate". The other is just a mention in a quote from Guliani's campaign defending Guiliani's relationship with Bernard Kerik in a news article about Kerik's indictment. The only other article penned by the New York Times was an editorial written last week lamenting how the candidates won't release their tax returns until they are the nominees. We get it, McCain was associated with the (democratic!) Keating 5 scandal.

As an aside, the following paragraph in that article is just a gem:
Participation in big-money politics inevitably runs the risk of encountering deep-pocketed benefactors who can become back-slapping embarrassments. Mr. McCain learned that lesson when he was caught up in the Keating Five scandal in the 1980s. The Clintons have also learned this lesson across the years, just as Senator Barack Obama rues what he calls “boneheaded” dealings with Antoin Rezko, a Chicago businessman indicted last fall for fraud and influence peddling.
Get it? Mr. McCain learned a lesson. The Clintons have learned a lesson. Barack Obama rues.

Futher update: Looks like its got a blogname now. The Dragonslayer Theory.

And the greatest conspiracy of all — could the Times so love their Maverick that they’d set themselves up as a dragon for McCain to slay and thereby reclaim his conservative bona fides? Well, er, no, but that’s the effect!
Futher futher update!: It sounds like the rumor of the spiking of the story was going to hit on Monday, so they Times got out in front of it to save their cocktail party credentials. Oops!

According to Black, the Times only went with the story now because The New Republic was set to run a piece next Monday about internal dissensions at the paper over whether to run the long-held article.

After the TNR reporter, Gabriel Sherman, began making phone calls to the Times and others outside the paper, they decided to publish, Black alleged.

More updates: From the Corner:

I'm Getting a Lot of These [Kathryn Jean Lopez]

An e-mail:

I'm the typical conservative who has not been happy with the McCain ascendancy, but the NYTimes has accomplished what Tojo did with Pearl Harbor. They have awoken a sleeping giant. We have been reminded who the real enemy is and it is not Senator McCain. I'm ordering my bumper sticker today.

Honest opinion or spin? It doesn't matter, it gives a rallying point for the party.

ARC: Brian