McCain is in trouble (of course, he always was). The Newsweek story today shows, based on his own testimony, that he lied in his denials yesterday. He said the lobbyists never asked him to intervene, and his earlier testimony claims they did. The deeper problem for him is that he has created this Maverick persona, part of which is a dislike for lobbyists and lobbying. He surrounds himself with lobbyists. That looks hypocritical.
He paints a picture of himself as a campaign finance reformer, and now he is caught playing games with public campaign finance rules. He has been pushing the envelope, ethically, on the very issues he tries to hold up as his strong points.
Hmm. A few thoughts.
1. At time like these I envy (on behalf of those I support) Bill Clinton's political skills. I have often said that if the Clinton White House had responded to Katrina precisely the way the Bush White House did, with two exceptions, President Clinton would have gained 10 points in the polls. Clinton would have the political savvy, first, to fly to New Orleans, have his advance team ferret out the gnarliest, sweatiest, fattest black woman in Ward Nine, then make sure he was photographed hugging her in a suitably hagiographic way: say, with the White House Press Corps positioned twenty feet lower than them, and with the tall weeds taking up half the frame. This would have been the cover of Time magazine, and would be the voters' lasting memory of Katrina. Second, Clinton would have found rhetoric suitable to placing the blame for what went wrong precisely in the lap of that buffoon, Mayor Nagin, in the sly, sliding way he tried to diminish Obama's victory in South Carolina.
Apropos of his methods, I can see Clinton faced with a story such as in the Times (not that the Times would ever run a story like yesterday's against Bill Clinton). Bill Clinton (or, more likely, his acolytes) would start by insinuating that the writers were threatened by a successful woman. He would then make some statement that was manifestly false ("I did not . . . have . . . sexual . . . relations . . . with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky") but too time-consuming and humiliating to disprove, and after it was disproven he would declare being caught in a lie "old news the American people are tired of." McCain doesn't have Clinton's skill (who does?), and he might suffer for it.
2. Given a day's reflection, there is something sticking out about all these accusations, and the something is only salutary to the right wing that is presently rushing to McCain's defense. McCain-Feingold was the greatest assault on free speech since the Alien and Sedition Acts, and the driving force was McCain's own sense of redemption in the wake of the Keating Five. Conservatives with no dog in the fundraising hunt despised McCaun-Feingold on principle, in favor of a set of regulations proposed by George Will:
*No foreign money
However . . . there was, I now realize, another element to conservatives' distaste to McCain-Feingold, one that went beyond its First Amendment implications, even beyond the New York Times' approbation for the free speech restriction/incumbent protection legislation that was laughingly termed "campaign finance reform." Our distaste was rooted, I now see, in the notion that McCain-as-maverick was a set-up from the start, a means of the MSM's using McCain himself as a cudgel to club other Republicans as long as he was useful. Once that usefulness was exhausted--once Romney, Thompson, and Guiliani were disposed of (and make no mistake, there is no public figure in America the Times despises so much as Rudy)--McCain could be discarded.
How else does one explain the Times' endorsement of McCain in the New York primary a month ago--at the very moment they were sitting on the front-page story we all read yesterday?
In the end (or, to be more precise, the middle), going after McCain was just so easy. Chuck Schumer can, in one month, pull in 800 grand in campaign contributions from the very hedge fund managers he regulates, but Schumer has the look and countenance of a mob lawyer, so nobody cares. Bill Clinton can play Stable Boy and the Milkmaid in the Oval Office, but everyone takes his scoundrel history as read, and discounts it. But as for McCain, for whom the last 20 years has been about moral and ethical rectitude, a flimsy, patched-together story is enough to call into doubt his entire ethos, so it runs, and it has effect.
3. Understand where all this is going. Prof Jimmy is (as Don Vito would say) a serious person, worthy of respect. His mention of the Newsweek story is worthy of examination.
So I read the thing.
My verdict? McCain is in trouble here . . . but only slightly, only in the realm of He talked to someone, as opposed to, He didn't talk to someone. If any of this mess hangs up McCain, it will be in the realm of telling a lie about something nobody can pin on nobody.
Above all else? McCain gains yardage here.