McCain: The Most Reprehensible of the Keating Five
The story of “the Keating Five” has become a scandal rivaling Teapot Dome and Watergate
Published on November 29, 1989
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 Joker.
Obviously, Keating thought you could make it to the White House, too.
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 do survive.
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 this.
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 money.
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 of that?
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 like gall.
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 someday.
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 Green Valley.
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 vacations.
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 accomplices.
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.