McCain's adultery vs. Edwards' adultery

Posted in Politics at 10:59 am by ducky

Scott Rosenberg recently cited something on electoral-vote.com saying there is a double standard going on regarding McCain’s adultery and Edwards’ adultery. It implies that McCain ought to be getting hassled about his adultery.

I am a liberal and not a McCain supporter, but to be fair, there is more going on in the Edwards story than adultery. Edwards also:

  1. did it with an employee, who appeared to get preferential treatment as a result
  2. did so recently
  3. lied repeatedly and convincingly about it

Because of point 1, Edwards’ affair is a relevant issue. His interaction with employees has a direct bearing on his management abilities. It is especially troubling that he would use funds entrusted to him to reward people he liked: that makes me really nervous about cronyism.

As far as I know, McCain wasn’t fooling around with his subordinates. (And if he did, that would be big news, as his subordinates at the time were almost surely all men!)

As for point 2, we’ve all done things we were ashamed of when we were younger, and people are generally pretty willing to look beyond youthful indiscretions (and even to be pretty open about how old you can be to be “youthful”). G. W. Bush certainly got a pass on his past drug use, just as people don’t seem too upset about Obama admitting some cannabis use in college.

Furthermore, life had to be pretty rough on McCain when he got back from Vietnam. He had to readjust, he had to do physical therapy, his wife was not only different from the one he’d left but who had willfully hidden significant physical changes from him, etc. By contrast, John Edwards had a wife who he clearly loved, was kind of at the top of his game, and to the best of my knowledge was not in physical pain. So while I don’t think that McCain’s affairs reflect well upon the man, I don’t think they reflect nearly as poorly as Edwards’ affair does upon him.

Point 3 I think is most important. Because Edwards was so convincing when he lied, now nobody will ever trust anything he says again. Had he lied badly — where everyone could see that he was lying through his teeth — it actually would not have been so damaging. When he said, “oops, I lied”, if everyone had said, “yeah, duh!”, then he would in some ways be seen as more trustworthy. “Well, he’s not lying this time because we can tell when he’s lying.”

(I am reminded of seeing William Shatner — a legendarily unconvincing actor — on the news, absolutely heartbroken and grief-stricken that his wife had drowned. Someone in the room said, “Well, at least we know he didn’t kill her.”)

Now, electoral-vote.com and Scott seem to argue that McCain’s adultery should matter because he is trying to portray himself as the “morals president”. (I hadn’t noticed that McCain was trying to portray himself as the “morals president”, but I actually haven’t been paying him much attention.) However, “morals” is a code word for a particular set of value priorities. It doesn’t actually mean that he is the candidate of high moral standards, it means that he aligns himself with a particular set of value priorities: pro-guns, anti-choice, pro-small-government, anti-welfare, pro-miliary, pro-Christian, pro-traditional gender roles, anti-gay, anti-drugs, etc.

What is important is the alignment with those value priorities.  As far as I can tell, Rush Limbaugh didn’t suffer much from getting caught with a drug habit: that didn’t change his alignment with the “morals” crowd’s politics. (He would have been in much worse shape if he had lied repeatedly and convincingly about giving a $100,000 donation to MoveOn.org!)

So while it might be nice wishful thinking on liberals’ part that bringing up McCain’s past indiscretions would make a difference, I really don’t think it would. 🙁

1 Comment

  1. w0lfness said,

    August 15, 2008 at 5:54 am

    Hi, it’s me again, just stopping by and your post caught my attention.
    [Btw I am sorry if my last comment seemed like I was trying to make fun of you or something, I wasn’t, I was just really curious about the coincidence].

    I actually don’t think that either of their affairs should matter, because politicians LIE it is a matter of fact, they do not tell the whole truth, so if Edwards is going to be judged on the fact that he was not strong enough to not cheat while his wife was battling cancer then McCain should be judged the same way.

    The fact of the matter is, that he admitted he lied, and he knew what that would probably do to his career, otherwise no one else would know about it.

    I think politics and personal life should not be mixed, period, Clinton was not an amazing president, but he was good, better than Bush, and we all know what he did with Monica.
    So I don’t think any politician is exempt from stuff like lies, however, I do believe that they should be judged by their political actions, or by what they claim, politically, not personally, no person is perfect.

    McCain’s “clean coal” campaign is more of a lie to me than some affair Edwards had that I really don’t care about,