There comes a time in each election cycle when even well-meaning partisans start believing their own press releases.  The campaigns and the grassroots start looking for long past or far-off whiffs of corruption that might somehow be attached to the opposition candidate, policy positions that can be twisted into something that sounds bad, tenuous connections to controversial figures, and slips of the tongue that can be taken out of context and magnified into endorsements of rape, incest, and genocide.  If the candidate is already in office, they aver that a failure to psychically foresee some issue and act upon it were the same thing as gross malfeasance.  They claim to believe that the lies their candidate tells are true, or at least an understandable concession to an easily swayed electorate, while the lies the opposition tells clearly render him unfit for that office.  What's worse, I think they really do believe this.

We have clearly reached that point in this campaign.

I am not prepared to indict people for doing this, as it seems like a nearly universal human instinct.  But neither am I prepared to participate in it.  And I find it irritating when people who are harping on flaws in the opposition candidate that they would easily overlook in their own side demand that I join them in their fantasy world.

Tim Burke chides me for failing to understand that the scandal at the Mineral Management Service raises deep and serious questions about John McCain's qualifications for office. 

Now, as scandals go, this is actually pretty weak tea.  Regulators dating regulatees, employees accepting valuable considerations from firms up to and including Toby Keith tickets, one supervisor who may have sexually harassed two subordinates.  Some of the employees used drugs, which given my ideological bent just makes me applaud them for their rascally courage in flouting an unjust law.  It's not exactly Watergate.  It's not even on the Bush administration's Top Ten.

Nonetheless, I am more than prepared to believe that the Bush administration dropped the ball, and clearly the agency needs to be cleaned up.  Where I draw the line is when people try to claim that because John McCain sits on the Commerce Committee, he could and should have stopped this:

Wow--just the sort of thing that would have called for vigorous Senate oversight during this time. If, say, the chair of one of the committees with jurisdiction over all this didn't uncover it, then you might say that such a person would be unfit for national office. You certainly wouldn't call him a candidate for change. If he was also getting millions from energy companies, you might suspect that any claim to be a change candidate might stink like fish in a newspaper--or even look like lipstick on a pig.

And who was the chair of the Senate Commerce Committee during most of this time, which has jurisdiction over (among other things) pipelines, interstate commerce, and coastal zone management?

You peeked, didn't you?

PS Commerce obviously isn't the only committee with jurisdiction, but the MMS sells oil and gas on the open market. That's an interstate commerce issue if there ever was one. And last I checked, oil goes through pipelines.

This is nonsense on stilts.  The Mineral Management Service was, last time I looked, overseen by the Energy and Natural Resources committee.  Sure, John McCain could have, using his commerce authority, called for an investigation.  So could Barack Obama, as a member of Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.  And why didn't Joe Biden notice?  After all, he's on the drug caucus.

Timothy Burke concedes in the comments to his post that okay, so maybe McCain doesn't actually have anything to do with the Mineral Management Service, but still, it matters, because . . . er . . . he's a Republican:

Is he taking any interest whatsoever in describing an administrative philosophy that will comprehensively break with the previous administration's policies and conduct, which WERE responsible for this scandal? No, he's not. It's not partisan bullshit to say that McCain at present gives every indication that he will govern JUST AS the people responsible for the scandal have. His vice-presidential candidate has governed in exactly that way in her limited time as an executive, using loyalty and sycophancy as her primary standards for selection of administration officials. McCain is the leader of a party that has massive numbers of these kinds of scandals to its name to show for eight years in office. It is anything but routine, banal partisanship to demand that the burden is on him to speak concretely, specifically, and clearly how he will thoroughly break with those practices on every possible level. He needs to describe how he will govern, what kinds of consultative practices he will employ, what his standards for appointment to high office are, and how or if he intends to make thorough executive oversight a part of his expectations for appointees in his administration.

Are you saying, in terms of your last point, that this specific scandal in no way reflects on the leadership of the Department of the Interior, and is in no way similar to other scandals among the Congressional Republicans or elsewhere in the Administration during the past eight years? If so, why do you think this scandal is specifically different? That is a quite specific claim that calls for specific evidence, not a generic wave-off that sometimes corruption isn't the fault of the leadership. To me, this particular scandal very much looks like a lot of the indifference to oversight practices that the present Administration has practically made an official policy commitment.

I don't even understand what most of this is supposed to mean--it reminds me of the startups I used to work for, when every time the company took another big blow, we'd be asked to sit around in a circle and brainstorm mission statements.  

He's running for president, not department chair, and I am not sure what his "consultative practices" are supposed to be, or how he should describe them.  Nor what, specifically, would constitute breaking with prior practices "on every level".  Moreover, I don't think that most people believe that the problem with the Bush administration is too little executive control of the bureaucracy.

John McCain has said, thoroughly and repeatedly, that he thinks Washington is corrupt and run by insiders, and that he wants to change that; he has made it clear that he wants to roll back many of the Bush administration's most odious practices, like its tacit support of torture.  You may not believe him when he says these things, but he has said them.  It is not reasonable to expect him to stand up and deliver a three hour address on how he plans to ensure that the employees of the Mineral Management Service do not use cocaine--other than perhaps cutting their salaries so they can't afford it.

Has Barack Obama issued a statement on how he plans to pick his advisors?  Or shake up the excessive coziness that the Democrats are already eagerly developing with the lobbying apparatus? And if he did, what would we learn from it?  It's like those questions in interviews about what your biggest weakness is--you can expect something anodyne and thoroughly, monotonously typical.

But here's the challenge that I issue to Burke, Jonathan Zasloff, the defenders of John McCain's sex-ed ad, and other partisans who purport to be thoroughly and honestly outraged by the behavior they are discussing.

As we go through the rest of this campaign, every time one of these pseudoscandals comes up, I will note the particulars.  From now on, I will watch the news cycle for the inevitable misstatements, scandals, and lies.  And you will agree that if anything similar happens on your candidate's watch, you will repudiate him.  So if there is, say, a scandal at the Department of the Interior under President Obama*, you will not only promise to vote Republican, but urge your readers in good faith to do the same.  Similarly, if John McCain calls his wife more names in public, Republicans will vote Democratic, because after all, that's what they expect voters to do over Sarah Palin and the lipstick comment.

Of course, pseudoscandals are rarely exactly equivalent, so I will put close calls up to Julian Sanchez and Jim Henley, who I think Democrats and Republicans can both agree are not on their side.

Perhaps you will say that one scandal is not enough; it is the weight of the evidence.  Fine.  We'll set up a point total of all the pseudoscandals currently outstanding; when your candidate passes that, you vote for the other side.  That is no more than you are asking swing voters do to right now.  Hell, we can double the point total, to allow for your sheer hatred of the other candidate.

If you aren't willing to take this deal, then I have a hard time taking your protestations seriously.  I don't fault partisans for doing this, because it works.  But it doesn't work on me.

*  Megan's sixth law of politics:  there is always a scandal at the Department of the Interior

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to