Noble Leaders?

So, the NYT ran this story about McCain maybe having an affair. First off, it seems the story is pretty flimsy. Consider these two paragraphs:

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.

. . . .

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.

So, it sounds like some people thought that there might be the appearance of a problem, which is particularly bad for someone who claims to be as moral as McCain.

I don’t like this garbage of making an allegation and then claiming it doesn’t matter if its true because the mere allegation is a problem. It does matter. If the man didn’t have an affair, then your done.

If the story is true, what should we do with it? What role should the personal morality of the candidates in our consideration of these candidates?

For example, I consider the following moral imperatives: (1) caring for the poor, (2) marital fidelity, (3) pursuing peaceful resolution to conflicts and(4) avoiding substance abuse. Can I elect officials with more regard to (1) & (3) because that is the “purpose” of casting my vote, or is it immoral to elect folks that fall short with regard to (2) & (4)?

6 replies on “Noble Leaders?”

From Lin

Oh, my God, Jim, I love your question! It’s exactly the right question for me. I would, indeed, allow questions 1 & 3 to influence my choice of a candidate. 2 & 4 are irrelevant — not because I don’t care about these issues, but because they don’t have anything to do with the candidate’s ability to influence ethical legislation for the good of the country as a whole.

The only relevance that 2 & 4 have is as “soft” indicators of character. We really do generally have difficulty being righteous in the public part of our lives and not in our private lives.


“What role should the personal morality of the candidates in our consideration of these candidates?”

It depends upon whether the “personal moral issue” is relevant to their role as a public decision-maker. What’s troubling about these allegations is that McCain–who entered into a romantic relationship with his current wife while still married to his first wife–may have had a “personal” relationship with this telecoms lobbyist while her clients had business before the Senate committee he chaired, not that he may have been “unfaithful” to his second wife.

This is why, for example, Bubba’s misbehavior in the Oval Office was so troublesome. Here was a political leader who claimed to be an advocate for women’s rights yet who sexually harassed female subordinates in his own workplace.

David Johnson
Chandler, Arizona

This is a more nuanced position on Clinton’s behavior than I’ve given you credit for before. I still don’t agree. I don’t think a consensual affair is sexual harassment. I was in my mid twenties when the scandal broke, and suppose that made me accept the proposition that a woman only a little younger than me could in fact have a consensual affair with her boss.

Any case, that makes sense. And, the several entanglements Senator McCain has had with lobbyists and money in politics stuff is relevant.


“I still don’t agree. I don’t think a consensual affair is sexual harassment.”

(I wonder if you would have the same view had Dubya gotten a blow job in the Oval Office from a twentysomething intern. . . .)

A consensual affair isn’t sexual harassment but because Bubba’s predatory behavior occurred with a subordinate in the workplace it was not merely an “affair.” An essential element of sexual harassment is the premise that subordinates, due to their subordinate position in the organizational hierarchy, are not truly able to “consent” to workplace sexual advances. This is pretty much NOW 101. That so many progressives failed to remember this in Bubba’s case points to the work that remains to be done by feminists and all who seek to protect others from the abuse of privileged power.

David Johnson
Chandler, Arizona

I think of Ike’s and JFK’s affairs the same. I am as unbothered by Bush’s cocaine use as I was with Clinton’s pot use. So, yeah, I think I would see it the same way.

It is not per se harassment for a superior to have a sexual relationship with a subordinate. It is a factually intensive question. Maybe Clinton’s behavior was harassing. The details we were put through during the Star Chamber Investigation did not suggest as much.

Although, to be fair, I have not taken NOW 101.

The NYTimes may have some evidence on McCain and Iseman, but they sure didn’t present it in their story. In fact this story could have run in the National Inquirer and wouldn’t have pulled their journalistic integrity average up at all.

Now if they do have something and they eventually get around to presenting it in their paper, fine. But right now, they have an allegation of a sexual affair. They have a denial by both principals, by everyone around both principals, and they have one letter McCain wrote in which he didn’t advocate for her position. Tell me that we shouldn’t hold our newspaper of record to a higher standard.

Leave a Reply