Charlie's Fallen Angel

It's true. Every hero really does become a bore at last. And now it's Senator John McCain's turn.

McCain, Arizona's most charismatic political figure for most of the past decade, has touched bottom. Only a war in the Persian Gulf can save his senatorial seat, which comes up in the 1992 election.

Clearly, McCain realizes he is in peril. For the past two weeks, he has been popping up on talk shows giving callers the benefit of his military expertise.

McCain has been attempting to slither away from his designation as one of the "Keating Five" for months. He has not been successful. There is too much baggage and too many connecting wires to Charles Keating.

The only thing that will make enough voters forget McCain's part in the savings-and-loan heist is an all-out war against Iraq.

McCain's central role in the Keating affair has become notorious. Of all the senators involved, McCain is the most culpable.

The revelations about his relationship with Keating have totally eroded McCain's political base. Even a dumpling like state Senator Jerry Gillespie of Mesa might defeat McCain if the two were matched against each other in this year's Republican primary.

That's exactly how far down McCain has slipped.

Of all the members' behavior of the "Keating Five," McCain's was the most odious.

Only a war could make people forget how McCain rode shotgun for Keating and his gang of financial marauders.

Think back on some of the opportunistic moves McCain made while he thought the voters weren't watching:

1. McCain accepted $112,000 in campaign contributions from Keating and his subalterns. To this day, McCain refuses to return the money.

Why not?

McCain says returning the money would be admitting he had done something wrong.

McCain doesn't seem to recognize that Keating's money has already been returned by two other senators, Dennis DeConcini and Don Riegle of Michigan. Even Attorney General Bob Corbin has divested himself of the $50,000 he took from Keating.

Public opinion might yet force McCain to cough up, but don't expect the duplicitous McCain ever to admit he did anything wrong.

2. McCain's wife, Cindy, and her father were included in a lucrative deal with Keating to construct the Fountain Square shopping center.

She invested $359,000.

McCain excuses himself. He says it was his wife's money and he had nothing to do with the deal because they have a prenuptial agreement.

On its very face, that alibi is impossible to swallow.

3. McCain and his wife regularly accepted free rides on Keating's private airplanes. Among the places they set down was Keating's home in the Bahamas.

Who else among the Keating Five wormed himself into that close a relationship?

4. McCain, with visions of becoming president of the United States dancing around in his head, accepted every morsel Keating tossed his way.

5. McCain was a willing participant in the infamous meeting in DeConcini's office where five United States senators bullied government employees who were trying to bring a halt to Keating's marauding of Lincoln Savings and Loan.

This meeting caused a two-year delay in Lincoln's closing.

During that period, Lincoln sold $220 million in American Continental Corporation debentures. They were marketed through Lincoln offices in $1,000 denominations while customers were steered away from those which were insured.

6. Pointing up the closeness of the friendship is the fact that Brad Boland, one of McCain's top assistants, spent so much time around the Keating family that he ended up marrying Keating's daughter.

Boland is now Keating's public relations man. That must be quite a heavy task.

There is, of course, plenty of blame to go round among the senators.

All five were ready and eager to take part in that fateful meeting in the early evening in the Washington, D.C., office of Arizona's senior senator, the honorable DeConcini.

It was the heat generated by the senators in this meeting that made it possible for the looting of Lincoln Savings to continue unabated for two more years.

We all have seen people make it to the Senate for reasons that have nothing to do with their competence as lawmakers.

Two of the Keating five, McCain and Ohio's John Glenn, are there because of their exploits before turning to politics.

Glenn was an astronaut; McCain was a prisoner of war.

What else did McCain have to offer? He moved to Arizona only because there was a congressional opening. He was shipped back to Washington on the heels of his first election before he'd had time to visit the Grand Canyon.

Clearly, McCain's attraction to voters stems wholly from an accident of history.

McCain rode his POW status to his elections in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

It's all a little sad when you look back on it.

McCain has never hesitated to use his status as a prisoner to pull at the heartstrings of Arizona voters. Take that one element away from his life and McCain has no credentials to be in Congress.

Now it appears that luck will still be on his side.

Until things heated up in the Persian Gulf, the one story that had the power to enrage voters and purge the Congress was the savings-and-loan crisis.

It is a financial scandal that matches anything in the entire history of this country.

And McCain, because of his intimate association with Keating, was right at the vital center.

 
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