I'll add just a couple of points to John's devastating critique of David Brooks's column defending McCain. The equivalence Brooks makes between Obama's misdirections and McCain's recent out-and-out lies is a false equivalence, an example of what Ruth Marcus cleverly called the "symmetry of sin." (You need metrics establishing McCain's lies are worse? The Washington Post's obsessively balanced "Fact Checker" site awarded Team McCain twenty-seven "pinocchios" for lies over the past three weeks to Team Obama's sixteen.) McCain's shamelessness in repeating lies that have been debunked ("the McCain-Palin campaign seems to think that a statement becomes true simply by dint of repetition," snarled the Fact Checker) is more disturbing than Brooks allows.

Also, Brooks suggests McCain's abilities as a legislator map directly onto the executive's duties. I'd argue that McCain's impulsiveness is a much more dangerous trait in an executive than in a legislator, something Brooks doesn't consider.

More than anything, though, Brooks's column read like the protestations of a man who knows a wrongdoer personally and can't, just can't, believe he would do that, even to win the presidency. But if literature teaches us anything, it's how unknowable human beings are, even to their families, not to mention journalists who meet them in passing. Reading Brooks's defense reminded me (ironically, considering what an enemy McCain was to Jack Abramoff) of journalist Kim Eisler's moving account of his struggle to accept that his buddy Abramoff was not the upright guy Eisler had thought he was:

I saw not a bit of arrogance in him. He was down to earth—even, I thought, kind. I liked him ... He invited me to his house one year for Succoth, the fall Jewish holiday celebrating the harvest. We ate outside in Jack’s Succoth, a temporary building lined with the fruits of the harvest. In his house he had a room full of religious books. ...

If he had done everything [his critics] claimed, he might indeed be a bad man. It was hard to believe I could be so naive as not to see it. I remembered that when I was a copyboy at Time magazine in the early 1970s, I found it pathetic that a correspondent there walked around the office defending Spiro Agnew. “I know Spiro Agnew,” he would say. “He would not accept a bribe in the vice president’s office. It didn’t happen.”

The conclusion of Brooks's column -- "nonetheless, when people try to tell me that the McCain on the campaign trail is the real McCain and the one who came before was fake, I just say, baloney. I saw him" -- comes straight from Eisler's Agnew-defending friend's mouth.

--Eve Fairbanks