McCain’s Saddleback deception

A Megan McArdle commenter on McCain’s shenanigans:
“His performance didn’t look so good when I suspected the performer was a cheating liar.”

I’m glad to see that the story about how McCain break the rules (certainly) and cheated (possibly) at the Rick Warren event is picking up steam. Megan McArdle thinks it’s a mistake for Obama’s folks to make a charge they can’t prove, but I think that misses the point.

Yes, no one can prove that McCain cheated, but there’s no doubt that McCain broke the rules that were designed to make it hard for him to cheat. Do we really need another President who thinks rules apply only to other people?

John Sargent, commenting on Megan’s post, nails it:

1. McCain promised to be in the cone of silence. He broke that promise.

2. When asked about the cone of silence by Rick Warren, the pastor of the church whose debate he was attending, McCain lied about having broken his promise to be in the cone of silence.

3. When exposed as having broken his promise to be in the cone of silence and lying about it on national television, McCain’s campaign insisted he could not have cheated because he is a war hero, notwithstanding the fact that he had just been caught breaking a promise and lying about it on national television to man of faith in his own church.

4. Whether he cheated or not, it is a fact that McCain had the opportunity to cheat.

Isn’t this obviously a loss for McCain? This doesn’t look like straight-talk to me. Frankly, I didn’t get to catch the Saddleback debate when it first happened, and I watched it after hearing McCain may have cheated. His performance didn’t look so good when I suspected the performer was a cheating liar.

Is it unfair (or unwise) to imply that McCain cheated when that can’t be proven? If you ask me as a person of common sense rather than as a juror, I’m pretty sure he cheated. He’s the sort of person who would regard it as funny to cheat as long as he didn’t get caught.

Of course candidates run late all the time. But does anyone think that McCain would have “run late” if he’d been up first? No, he would have made sure he got there on time. Someone in the campaign decided either that it was more important to do something else than to get McCain into the “cone of silence” required by the rules, or that it was worth a gamble to get him early access to the questions.

Assume for the moment that McCain was really running late due to circumstances beyond his control. Shouldn’t he have ‘fessed up to it when Warren mentioned the “cone of silence” rather than going along with the pretense that he was in a room where he couldn’t have access to the proceedings by making a joke about trying to listen through the wall? And shouldn’t he have kept the spirit of the rules by arranging to go in a car with just his Secret Service driver and no staff members? If he didn’t want to cheat, why did he put his honesty in doubt?

So I take McCain’s contempt for the rules and his dishonesty as proven, and worth making a fuss about, and the cheating as likely, and therefore not an unfair implication. If McCain hadn’t wanted to be suspected of cheating, he shouldn’t have put himself in a position where he could cheat without getting caught.

Footnote I agree with Megan about both the ethics and the tactics of asking whether the cross-in-the-dirt incident really happened. Let’s drop that one, folks.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: