Non sequitur

Did McCain cheat by getting an advance peek at Rick Warren’s questions? I don’t know, but the argument “of course a former POW couldn’t cheat” makes no sense whatever.

John McCain reportedly was somewhat more coherent than average at Rick Warren’s forum. But there’s now some doubt about how he achieved that. The two constestants candidates were asked the same questions, with Obama going first. To avoid giving bachelor #2 McCain an unfair advantage (beyond the unfair advantage of an audience of rich people who had shelled out $500-$2000 per ticket), McCain was supposed to be in a “cone of silence” (Warren’s term) while Obama was on.

But he wasn’t; he was in his limo on the way to the church. His staff says he didn’t listen; maybe that’s true. But nothing would have prevented a staff member from listening and calling McCain on his cell phone. (I believe that he does know how to use a cell phone.) McCain didn’t bother to correct Warren when he told the audience about the “cone of silence,” and Warren seemed surprised to learn that McCain hadn’t been in the communications-free room.

Now, I have no idea whether McCain actually got the questions in advance. But I do know that the McCain campaign’s response to the query was an insult to the intelligence of the voters:

The insinuation from the Obama campaign that John McCain, a former prisoner of war, cheated is outrageous.

The notion that McCain’s suffering as a POW guarantees his honesty in all transactions for the rest of his life would have to improve a lot to be ridiculous. There is simply no logical connection I can imagine between former-prisoner status and honesty. In fact, we know that McCain has cheated on many occasions, starting with cheating on his wheelchair-bound first wife with a string of girlfriends, the richest of whom became his second wife.

Try again, fellas.

Footnote At the very least, McCain broke the rules. He was supposed to be isolated while Obama was onstage, and instead he didn’t even leave his hotel until the forum had started. We have only his word for it that he didn’t cheat, and we know that McCain’s word is his junk bond.

Trust your fellow man, but always cut the cards. If the dealer doesn’t want to let you cut, time to get out of the game.


From Jake Tapper:

ABC News’ Ron Claiborne, traveling with the McCain campaign, reports that McCain senior adviser Charlie Black would not say whether people around McCain while he was en route to Rick Warren’s forum had access to blackberries and cell phones from which they could have tipped off Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., about the questions. “There’s no reason we would do that,” was all Black would say, though quite obviously there is a reason.

Of course the answer to the question “Did McCain’s staff have its Blackberries in the limo?” is obviously “yes.” No way a campaign entourage travels without its mobile communications gear.

Cheaters never prosper. No, we don’t know that McCain cheated. What we know is that there was an anti-cheating rule in place and that McCain deliberately broke that rule, and then was less than honest about it when Warren asked him. This is truly low-rent behavior.

Second update Megan McArdle points out that we can’t know that McCain cheated, and therefore argues that the charge shouldn’t be made. Megan is right that there’s no way to prove that McCain cheated. But we do know that he deliberately broke the rules designed to make it hard to cheat, like a dealer who won’t let anyone cut the cards. Isn’t that bad enough? Do we really need another President who thinks that rules apply only to other people?

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: