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Sean Carman Headshot

Bill Kristol: Pinhead

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The New York Times has taken some flack for a story documenting that, despite his speeches against corruption in Washington, John McCain has not been careful to separate his relationships with lobbyists from his responsibilities as a senator.

The leading example of McCain blurring the lines involved a female lobbyist, Vicki Iseman, who grew so close to McCain that two McCain aides began to worry Iseman and the senator were having a romantic relationship. The aides eventually warned McCain to distance himself from Ms. Iseman and separately told her to scram. They told their story to the Times because, they said, they had become disillusioned with Mr. McCain.

OK, so the aides decided, reluctantly we can presume, that McCain is a hypocrite. Fair enough. But the country hasn't really focused on this story, the substance of which has been confirmed by subsequent disclosures. Instead, distracted not even by sex, but the mere prospect that someone, somewhere in the story, might be about to have sex, the country lost focus and, in a rabid, frenzied, sex-crazed panic, decided the story meant to accuse McCain of having an affair.

It was sort of like: "This just in: Senator McCain, who preaches against the influence of lobbyists in Washington, is not always careful to--SEX!!! There's about to be SEX! Omigod omigod omigod!! I can't believe it!! SEX!!"

And then, there was no sex, and everyone felt let down, betrayed even, and decided the story must have been some sort of outrage. To raise expectations like that and then . . . nothing! It's . . . it's . . . un-American!

Even the Times' watchdog got on the train, complaining that if a story raises the prospect of a romantic relationship, it should have to prove one actually occurred. Clark Hoyt, the Times' public editor, said the Times should not have run the story without at least a few lurid text messages, or a photo like the one of Donna Rice sitting on Gary Hart's lap on the Monkey Business. Yeah-heah! The public editor knows what he likes.

But what a brilliant editorial directive: Any story that mentions a possible romantic relationship, in any context, must prove it was consummated. Just imagine the conversation between the Times reporters and their sources.

"What about lurid emails? We really can't really run this story without them."

"They weren't having an affair, you morons! The point is not that they slept together! The point is that Mr. 'I'm Going to Clean up Washington' wasn't keeping his distance from lobbyists! He is disingenuous at best, a hypocrite at worst! It's a question of appearances! How many times do I have to explain this?!"

Or the sources might have said, "Photos of McCain with Iseman on his lap on the Monkey Business? Look, McCain may be stupid, but he's not that stupid."

But I didn't really intend to write about the idiocy gripping the county about the McCain story, except to say that people are focusing on the wrong question. The question is not, why did the Times run the McCain story? The question is, why has this moron columnist Bill Kristol not been fired yet?

In case you didn't see it, this week's Kristol column takes Barack Obama to task for his explanation about why he doesn't wear an American flag lapel pin.

Small minds, small concerns. Yes, there are big issues facing the country, but never mind them. What really matters is Obama's explanation for his failure to wear an American flag pin on his lapel.

You know, why even have the primaries? Cancel the debates. Let's just interview the candidates about why they wear or don't wear the flag pin. From their answers we'll decide who should govern the country.

Kristol's argument on the Obama flag pin question ("Flag-gate!") is just so unbelievably, insidiously stupid. The man is a 50-year-old fifth grader. Obama explained that at some point he decided to express his patriotism by speaking out against the war in Iraq. That, Obama decided, might be a more authentic expression of patriotism than wearing a flag pin. And so, when he began speaking out against the war, he put the flag pin down.

Actions may speak louder than words, but words, Obama decided, speak louder than flag pins.

This was eminently sensible. Don't lapel pins express a cheap sort of sentiment? The idea that you can lie to instigate a war in Iraq but, hey, as long as you're wearing a flag pin, no one can say you don't have the country's best interests at heart. Lapel pins speak louder than actions, that's the idea. Isn't that the cheap sentiment that makes lapel pins so tacky?

Well, no, actually. Not in Bill Kristol's world of trinkets and tiny symbols. Kristol complained that Obama's answer was "all about him." He complained that, "moral vanity prevailed. He wanted to explain that he was too good--too patriotic!--to wear a flag pin on his chest."

First, Obama's answer was about him because--news flash!--he was the one who had stopped wearing the flag pin. He couldn't answer the question without giving a personal answer, one that explained something about himself and the decision he had made.

Second, Obama wasn't saying he was too good to wear a lapel pin, merely that he felt he didn't have to wear one. He was expressing his patriotism in other, perhaps more meaningful, ways.

I have an idea that might appeal to Bill Kristol: The Flag Pin Police. Let's have paid federal law enforcement officials go around questioning citizens about why they aren't wearing American flag lapel pins. If anyone gives an answer that seems "grandiose" or insufficiently humble for our tastes, we'll disqualify that person from holding public office.

What is that again? There's a name for that. Something we once fought against, I think.

Oh yeah. I remember. It's called "fascism."