Most of the conservatives rallying around John McCain have argued that the insinuations that he has had an affair with a lobbyist are unproven or irrelevant. I think those arguments are perfectly fair. What I've been waiting for is a conservative to explain why those things can be true but it was still okay to try to hound Bill Clinton from office for his affair. Now Michael Gerson steps to the plate:

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.

Hmm, this isn't very convincing. Monica Lewinsky was an adult when she had an affair (which she initiated) with Bill Clinton. Now, I suppose Gerson could say that a 49-year-old Clinton having an affair with a 22-year-old intern was worse than the 63-year-old McCain doing the same with the 32-year-old Vicki Iseman. But I'm not really sure what the reasoning would be. Gerson claims Clinton was exploiting Lewinsky, and it's true he was her superior. But Lewinsky didn't report to Clinton, and it's unclear what career benefit he could have offered her. (A letter of recommendation would have raised some eyebrows.)

McCain, on the other hand, 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 my opinion, whether or not McCain had an affair with Vicki Iseman says almost nothing about his fitness for the presidency. But I wish this incident would prompt conservatives to rethink their sexual standards for public figures, instead of inventing specious distinctions to justify their partisan sexual inquisitions.

--Jonathan Chait