The McCain Sex Scandal: A Second Look

Remember the excitement about the February 21, 2008, New York Times article that implied that John McCain may have been romantically involved with Vicki Iseman, a lobbyist 30 years his junior? There was a lot of righteous indignation about this invasion of McCain's privacy...and then the story faded away, soon to be overwhelmed by the much more entertaining Eliot Spitzer scandal.

The more I think about the McCain story, the more I suspect that it was planted, or at least manipulated, by the McCain campaign itself. McCain has two important skeptical constituencies that he needs to win over: 1) conservatives who think he is too liberal and 2) those who think that, at age 72, he would be too old to begin a term as president. By portraying McCain as the victim of a smear attack by the evil liberal New York Times, his campaign sent out the message that if the liberals hate him, he must really be a conservative. By portraying McCain as possibly being linked romantically to a 40-year-old blonde, they emphasized that he is still young enough to be president.

So, rather than the Iseman story hurting McCain, it actually helped him in two vital ways. In fact, he even benefited on a third front. McCain has tried to market himself as a foe of special interests. Yet here he was using his influence to help the clients of a telecommunications lobbyist. However, this potentially damaging expose of hypocritical corruption was buried by the media coverage of the sex angle of the story.

Maybe all the pro-McCain messages that resulted from the Times piece were the result of coincidence and good luck, but, in the end, the big winner in this story was John McCain.