What a Scandal Doesn’t Look Like
I’m seeing some folks getting all hypervent-ally over a new tidbit of news, in which Newsweek discovered that Cindy McCain was behind on the property tax on some of her property, to the tune of some amount less than $10,000; apparently she was in arrears on the taxes for fours years and were about to default when Newsweek alerted the McCain campaign. She apparently paid up immediately, because, after all, when you’re worth $100 million, you can do that.
Folks on the left side of the B’sphere are trying to rouse up some outrage, but you know what? Meh. So some properties they have slipped through the cracks. When you have a lot of properties and investments, this will happen from time to time. The details of the story suggest pretty strongly that Cindy McCain wan’t trying to avoid paying taxes, there was just some screw-up in delivering the tax bills; the end result would have been an elderly relative of Mrs. McCain being booted out of her residence, which one may reasonably assume would not have been what either McCain would have wanted.
Now, the problem is that if we know anything about the Internets — if we are aware of Internets, so to speak — we know that what it’s really good at is revving people up insensibly over things that are fundamentally penny-ante. And while this is fun, I think it desensitizes people to things that actually matter, and also gives ammunition to the spin doctors, who can use amped-up outrage over little stuff like this to lessen the impact of something that is potentially, genuinely scandalous on the part of a candidate (or in this case, let’s note, his spouse). Outrage against a candidate is a finite resource, not an infinite public utility; use it sparingly and wisely.
In other words, all signs point to a minor screw-up, now rectified. People trying to use this as an example of the absent-mindedness we can expect from McCain re: the economy if he is the president are hereby presented with a small paper bag and the advice to breathe into it slowly. This is not a big deal. It merits sarcasm at best.
On this point, electoral vote tracking site fivethirtyeight.com has an interesting piece called The Electric Minor Political Scandal Acid Test, in which that site’s proprietor looks at five factors to see whether a minor scandal like this will have any legs. By his formula, “La Jolla-gate” will have medium impact. He may be right. It’s not worth even that.