Conservatives Have Decided Adultery No Longer Matters

The Washington Post's Michael Gerson, Bush's former chief speechwriter and someone who seems to take the issue of politics and morality seriously, devoted his latest column to John McCain's Vicki Iseman controversy. Not surprisingly, the conservative columnists defends the conservative senator against the charges first raised by the NYT.

Most of the argument is about what one would expect, but I was a little surprised to see Gerson give McCain a pass on the adultery charge, even assuming the allegations are accurate.


Even if the accusation of infidelity were true, this kind of past relationship is hardly disqualifying for high office anymore, given a series of more prurient precedents. An affair between adults is a far cry from President Bill Clinton's exploitation of an intern, which involved not merely a failure of character but also an abuse of power.
This strikes me as wrong on a few levels, and I'm actually a little surprised Gerson would put it in print. It's not the conservative line on sexual morality at all.

First, even on the surface, it's not at all clear that the Lewinsky affair would be qualitatively worse than an Iseman affair (assuming, just for discussion, that the latter actually occurred). The age differences between the participants is similar -- though I think McCain's age gap with Iseman is slightly bigger than Clinton's with Lewinsky -- and everyone was a consenting adult.

What's more, as Jonathan Chait noted, Lewinsky didn't report directly to Clinton during her internship, while McCain "had enormous leverage over Iseman. He was the Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, she was a telecommunications lobbyist. Winning his favor had great potential value for her, and alienating him would have been extremely damaging to her career."

In the minds of Republican, one is serious enough to undo a presidential election while the other, if accurate, is irrelevant?
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