POLITICS

George Will Disses McCain As 'Situational Ethicist'

03/28/2008 02:46 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Last week, John McCain earned himself a brief respite from being called a political turncoat by his fellow conservatives because the New York Times wrote that poorly sourced, unsubstantiated story about McCain bringing Vicki Iseman to, uhm...cloture. But now that McCain's running around rejecting and denouncing the fear-mongering warm-up addresses of Bill Cunningham and hypocritically holding forth on campaign finance (he claims that even though he used the promise of future public financing to secure a loan, he should be still allowed to opt out of the public financing now because technically, he never spent the public financing itself) conservatives are starting to attack McCain again. And the latest shot at McCain comes courtesy of the courtly dyspepsia of George Will.

Will's piece is especially harsh. He calls McCain out for a lack of social graces, for being a "situational ethicist", and for being a victim of his own "towering moral vanity." He throws the book at McCain on substantive issues as well: McCain's unwillingness to support Bush's FEC appointment, the mind-bending hypocrisy of establishing a lobbying organization to lobby against lobbying, and the fact that he took the easy road to Ohio ballot access by saying he's do what he now wants to wriggle out of doing: taking public financing.

But the unkindest bit of jujitsu that Will unleashes comes in his lede, where Will - quite masterfully - un-tethers McCain from his recent source of conservative pity and goodwill:

Certain kinds of conservatives, distrusting Richard Nixon's ideological elasticity, rejected him -- until 1973. Although it had become clear that his administration was a crime wave, they embraced him because the media were his tormentors. Today such conservatives, whose political compasses are controlled, albeit negatively, by the New York Times, have embraced John McCain. He, although no stickler about social niceties (see below), should thank the Times, for two reasons.

First, the Times muddied, with unsubstantiated sexual innuendo about a female lobbyist, a story about McCain's flights on jets owned by corporations with business before the Senate Commerce Committee, and his meeting with a broadcaster ...who sought and received McCain's help in pressuring the Federal Communications Commission. Perhaps McCain did nothing corrupt, but he promiscuously accuses others of corruption, or the "appearance" thereof....

McCain should thank the Times also because its semi-steamy story distracted attention from an unsavory story about McCain's dexterity in gaming the system for taxpayer financing of campaigns.

Methinks the honeymoon is over.

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