I don't much care about the blonde. The blonde is the hook. The blonde is what makes people read the story. (I had the same reaction as Wonkette. She looks like a young Cindy McCain. Or like Amy Poehler imprersonating Cindy McCain. Wonkette's bullet points, by the way, aren't bad if you're too lazy to read the whole Times story.)
The larger problem for John McCain is that the story makes clear the degree to which -- despite all his post-Keating self-flagellation -- John McCain continued to operate in a way that was not appreciably different from his pre-Keating days. If you're flying around in the corporate jets of people who have business in front of your committee, you're a reformer in a rather puny sense. The Ralph Naders of this world take commercial flights.
Somebody called my show this week and attacked McCain on the Keating stuff, and I stepped up to defend him. I repeated what has been his story: that the Keating mess so chastened him that he was a changed man. There were visitations from the Ghosts of Thriftmas Past, Present and Future; and in the morning sun, Ebenezer McCain resolved to keep ethics alive in his heart.
I wouldn't say that again, and I wish I hadn't said it then. It seems clearer that McCain decided it was important to make some rules but did not decide it was important for him, in meaningful ways, to stop accepting favors from people who have public business with him. Nor did he erect any kind of meaningful firewall between lobbysts and himself. In fact, one of the most disturbing sections of the Times story runs about two paragaphs and mentions the revolving door that shuffles McCain's campaign and senate office staff out in the the world of lobbyists and back in again. Maybe everybody in D.C. does that, but remember: McCain's argument is that he's better.
The McCain approach to ethics begins to resemble the Lieberman approach to clean airwaves. How does McCain explain all the conflicts between his soi disant role as reformer and his actual behavior? He and his surrogates simply aver that he is a man of integrity. So you can trust him. Because you just can. Because of who he is.
Yes, but ...what are the objective criteria by which McCain's behavior can be evaluated? There aren't any. There is only his mighty soul.
This is exactly the way his bosom buddy Lieberman conducts himself .
When he was making lickspittle appearances on the Don Imus and Bob Grant shows and simultaneously offering to protect us all from broadcast impurities, Lieberman's way of resolving that contradiction was always to insist that there wasn't one. And there wasn't, because he never put forth any criteria other than what he liked and what he didn't like.
McCain looks much the same way right now. What is wrong? The things other people do. What is acceptable? What McCain has done. Why? It just is; that's all.
Meanwhile, he had taken the interesting step of hiring Washington fixer lawyer Bob Bennett to either kill the story or delay it until he had the nomination sewed up. Which he sort of does. But only sort of.
And that's why Mike Huckabee is the new Keith Van Horn. Van Horn was "traded" this week despite having effectively hung up his NBA sneakers a couple of years ago. Effectively but not officiallly. So he was included in a trade for reasons so complex they have resisted two attempts by me to fathom them.
I'm starting to think maybe Huckabee knew this story was coming. It helps explain why he has hung around. McCain will probably weather this storm, but maybe he won't. Some people won't like the blonde. Some people won't like the lobbyists and the jets.
Of course, his other opponents -- like all politicians -- have tended to "suspend" rather than terminate their campaigns. It's not unthinkable, if McCain crumples or combusts during the next week of heat, that Romney might rise from his crypt.