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McCain: The Most Reprehensible of the Keating
The story of "the Keating Five" has become a scandal rivaling
Teapot Dome and Watergate
By Tom Fitzpatrick
First published: November 29, 1989 -
Phoenix New Times
You're John McCain, a fallen hero who wanted to become president
so desperately that you sold yourself to Charlie Keating, the
wealthy con man who bears such an incredible resemblance to The
He poured $112,000 into your political campaigns. He became your
friend. He threw fund raisers in your honor. He even made a
sweet shopping-center investment deal for your wife, Cindy. Your
father-in-law, Jim Hensley, was cut in on the deal, too.
Nothing was too good for you. Why not? Keating saw you as a
prime investment that would pay off in the future.
So he flew you and your family around the country in his private
jets. Time after time, he put you up for serene, private
vacations at his vast, palatial spa in the Bahamas. All of this
was so grand. You were protected from what Thomas Hardy refers
to as "the madding crowd." It was almost as though you were
already staying at a presidential retreat.
Like the old song, that now seems "Long ago and far away."
Since Keating's collapse, you find yourself doing obscene things
to save yourself from the Senate Ethics Committee's
investigation. As a matter of course, you engage in backbiting
behavior that will turn you into an outcast in the Senate if you
They say that if you put five lobsters into a pot and give them
a chance to escape, none will be able to do so before you light
the fire. Each time a lobster tries to climb over the top, his
fellow lobsters will pull him back down. It is the way of
lobsters and threatened United States senators.
And, of course, that's the way it is with the Keating Five. You
are all battling to save your own hides. So you, McCain, leak to
reporters about who did Keating's bidding in pressuring federal
regulators to change the rules for Lincoln Savings and Loan.
When the reporters fail to print your tips quickly enough--as in
the case of your tip on Michigan Senator Donald Riegle--you call
them back and remind them how important it is to get that
information in the newspapers.
The story of "the Keating Five" has become a scandal rivaling
Teapot Dome and Watergate. The outcome will be decided, not in a
courtroom, but probably on national television.
Those who survive will be the sociopaths who can tell a lie with
the most sincere, straight face. You are especially adept at
Last Friday night, on The John McLaughlin Show, which features
well-known Washington journalists, the subject of the Keating
Five was discussed. Panelist Jack Germond suggested that three
of the Keating Five were probably already through in politics.
So you spend your days desperately trying to make sure you will
be one of the survivors. You keep volunteering to go on radio
and television stations to protest your innocence. Last week you
made ABC's Nightline.
Not long before that you somehow managed to get James
Kilpatrick, the national columnist, to write a favorable
paragraph about you. Last Sunday morning, you made it to
national television again; this time on ABC's This Week With
David Brinkley. You smiled at the panel with your usual studied
insouciance. Sitting next to you was Senator John Glenn of Ohio.
Brinkley, Sam Donaldson, and George Will were the interrogators.
It was a sobering scene. There you sat with Glenn, both sweating
before the cameras, waiting to answer questions: two badly
tarnished American icons.
No one forgets that Glenn was the first American astronaut to
orbit the Earth. You won't let anyone forget that you were a
prisoner of war. But you have played that tune too long. By now
your constant reminders about your war record make you seem like
a modern version of Arthur Miller's tragic failure Willy Loman.
Clearly, both you and Glenn sold your fame for Charles Keating's
It was a Faustian bargain. It was also a bad joke on the rest of
us and a disaster for many old people who lost their life's
savings to Keating.
The money was never really Keating's to give. But he never would
have got his hands on it if you and the rest of the Keating Five
didn't halt the government takeover for two long years while
Keating's people continued their looting.
And now, the tab for the Savings and Loan heist must be paid
from taxpayer pockets.
On Sunday, Senators Dennis DeConcini, Alan Cranston, and Riegle
refused offers to appear on the Brinkley show. What must we make
You, the closest of them to Keating and the deepest in his debt,
have chosen the path of the hard sell. You may even make it out
of the pot, but to many, your protestations of innocence taste
You are determined to bluff your way. You will stick to your
story that you were acting to help a constituent and intended to
do nothing improper. The very fact you attended the meeting
makes you guilty, just as every man who entered the Brinks vault
went to prison.
You insist that an accounting firm Keating hired told you
Lincoln was sound. Alan Greenspan, who Keating also hired, wrote
a report saying it was sound. Why shouldn't you believe the
people Keating hired? You were, after all, fellow employees.
Perhaps you might silence your own conscience about all this
Just keep telling everyone that it was your wife's money
invested in that shopping center with Keating and that you knew
nothing about it.
Keep saying that cynical newspaper people don't understand that
every move you make has always been for the enrichment of
Arizona . . . the education of our Native Americans on the
reservations . . . for the love of the elderly in Sun City and
Keep telling them that it wasn't that you were bought off but
that Charlie Keating got special help only because he was one of
the biggest employers in the state.
Just keep sitting there and staring into the camera and denying
that Keating bought you for money and jet plane trips and
So what if he gave you $112,000? Just keep smiling at the
cameras and saying you did nothing wrong.
Maybe the voters will understand you took those tiring trips to
Charlie's place in the Bahamas in their behalf. Certainly, they
can understand you wanted to take your family along. A senator
deserves to travel on private jets, removed from the awful crush
of public transportation.
You sought out a master criminal like Keating and became his
friend. Now you've discarded him. It shouldn't be surprising
that you are now in the process of selling out your senatorial
You're John McCain, clearly the guiltiest, most culpable and
reprehensible of the Keating Five. But you know the power of
television and you realize this is the only way you can possibly
save your political career.
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