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Confessions of a candidate

This one made us stop and pause. There is an inescapable element of political tactic here, and we’ll get to that, but also a more painful matter: Have we got to the point that candidates are bound to reveal their darkest, back-of-the-closet secrets to the world if they choose to run for office?

Mike McGavickWe suspect things haven’t gone quite that bad, but Mike McGavick, the Republican running for the Senate in Washington (and near-certain nominee), apparently does. And so, today, he decided to confess all, to the news media and directly to his supporters through a post on his blog. (He also says he had no indication that these items were slated for disclosure by Democrats, that he was beating them to the punch. That’s credible, since he makes no effort to excuse or minimize.)

You could say that in one astonishing shot he characterized himself as a drunk driver – testing .17, extremely drunk – a man who got a divorce because he and his wife simply came not to like each other much, a part-time father, a purveyor of a dishonest campaign tactic – in a U.S. Senate race, no less – and a corporate exec who, Enron-style, first said the business was fully righted and then proceeded to lay off 500 employees who weren’t expecting it.

You could say that – it would be an intepretation which may get out there and take hold. It would not be a fair interpretation. Three of these incidents were incidents, one-time events, and McGavick indicates remorse for each. The other – about his first marriage – is an essentially private matter, and what he describes is unfortunately familiar to a lot of people. He suggests he has learned and grown. “Here it is,” he writes. “I have lots of faults, and I have made some mistakes that I deeply regret.”

He confesses to driving drunk once in 1993 and getting caught, paying a fine and going through the legal process. Not admirable for the first part, but there was atonement, and when he admits this offense out of the blue – it hadn’t been made public before – says he hasn’t done it since, you tend to believe him. Taken as a whole, you get the sense of a flawed and normal human being; nothing here stands as a disqualifier for office. (A strong suggestion here: If you read my summary a couple of paragraphs up, pause now and click the link to McGavick’s own statement, so you can get a full and proper sense of it.)

There is also a certain amount of gruesome credibility in what he says here. At the end of his statement, he says, “My pledge to you is one of authenticity, civility and transparency.”

So that gets weighed against the information he’s now put out on the table. That and anything else that might emerge: Implicitly, he has now declared, this is it. He’s opened the door to a contention that it isn’t.

Assuming this is all, how does it play out in the political context?

By putting it out himself, and at once, he has avoided the usual call-and-response of negative news, and the run of negative headlines – the news now is that McGavick has made a remarkable personal confession – and the drip-drip-drip of one-at-a-time disclosures.

On the other hand, he has validated these reports, and if they’re used in future, he can’t say his past was misrepresented. He can be attacked on levels that matter to social conservatives (the DUI, the divorce), to good-government people (the campaign ad) and critics of big business (the SafeCo incident). The latter two, at least, do seem from this perspective to be fair grist for his opposition; they relate to how he handled responsibility at important junctures, a reasonable area of assessment for a candidate for the U.S. Senate.

So what do to the Democrats do with all this?

Probably not much they wouldn’t have been doing anyway, in truth. There’s not much reason to think they would have made a deal about the divorce. They have already been after him on the SafeCo front, clearly plan to come back for more, and McGavick has just provided confirmation for one of the more serious charges. They were likely coming after him on the Gorton campaign, too; that wasn’t news to them. The ’93 DUI may or may not have been news to them; disclosing it now was probably a calculated gamble.

The first Democratic response? David Postman of the Seattle Times quotes a Democratic speaker: “From privatizing Social Security to drunk driving it becomes clearer every day that Mike McGavick and George Bush are cut from the same cloth.” Ouch.

Check out the comments sections at the Times and P-I and you won’t see a lot of sympathy for McGavick, even from Republicans (some of whose idea of defending this DUI was to bring up ye olde Chappaquiddick).

We’ll take no bets on how this plays out, but initial reaction is that McGavick has taken a helluva risk.

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