McCain Keating Five Flashback: "You're a Liar"
The implosion of Wall Street this week comes as a triple-dose of bad news for John McCain. No doubt, his daily-changing response to the crisis confirmed McCain's self-proclaimed ignorance of economics. Perhaps even more damaging, America's financial nightmare conjured images of the savings and loan scandal 20 years ago, one in which McCain's close ties to political sugar daddy Charles Keating almost ended his career. And to be sure, flashing back to McCain's 1989 temper tantrum in response to his Keating Five charges can only remind American voters that John McCain is dangerously unfit for the nation's highest office.
As I detailed previously, McCain's proposal on Thursday to essentially resurrect the Resolution Trust Corporation harkens back to S&L disaster in which he was a central figure. The RTC was an entity signed into law by President George H.W. Bush, which in the 1980's and 1990's ultimately poured $400 billion into hundreds of faltering savings and loan institutions. About $3 billion of that came from the collapse of Charles Keating's Lincoln Financial, the man for whom McCain interceded with federal thrift regulators.
While McCain was ultimately admonished by a Senate ethics panel only for "poor judgment," his behavior in response to the white hot press spotlight raises troubling questions about his fitness to lead. As the Arizona Republic recalled in March 2007:
On Oct. 8, 1989, The Arizona Republic revealed that McCain's wife and her father had invested $359,100 in a Keating shopping center in April 1986, a year before McCain met with the regulators.
The paper also reported that the McCains, sometimes accompanied by their daughter and baby-sitter, had made at least nine trips at Keating's expense, sometimes aboard the American Continental jet. Three of the trips were made during vacations to Keating's opulent Bahamas retreat at Cat Cay.
McCain also did not pay Keating for some of the trips until years after they were taken, after he learned that Keating was in trouble over Lincoln. Total cost: $13,433.
When the story broke, McCain did nothing to help himself.
"You're a liar," McCain said when a Republic reporter asked him about the business relationship between his wife and Keating.
"That's the spouse's involvement, you idiot," McCain said later in the same conversation. "You do understand English, don't you?"
He also belittled reporters when they asked about his wife's ties to Keating.
"It's up to you to find that out, kids."
Ultimately, the paper ran the story. After it broke, McCain held a news conference with his rage in check and calmly answered questions for 90 minutes. (In a preview of the 2008 campaign, McCain's defense was that his wife's finances - and extreme wealth - were separate from his own.)
But McCain's response also revealed another disturbing pattern that continues to this day. After launching a furious tirade against the media, McCain sought to forgiveness after the fact. As the Boston Globe described the episode:
When reporters questioned the investment, John McCain wrote in his autobiography, he "shouted at them, cursed them, and eventually slammed the phone down on them. It was ridiculously immature behavior."
In that same 2002 book, McCain pondered, "I don't know how (The Republic journalists) would have reported the story had I been more civil and understanding or just more of a professional during the interview."
Two weeks ago, Joe Klein of Time summed up McCain then and now with his indictment of the Republican nominee's "sleazy ads," predicting:
"I just can't wait for the moment when John McCain--contrite and suddenly honorable again in victory or defeat--talks about how things got a little out of control in the passion of the moment. Talk about putting lipstick on a pig."
This week's financial meltdown should serve to focus Americans' minds on John McCain's dark role in precipitating the last one 20 years ago. And his hysterical reaction to the charges he faced then should give voters of all stripes pause. For his corruption and out-of-control temper, John McCain can't simply kiss and make up with the American press - or people.
As Joe Klein put it, "apology not accepted."