Forget About It

People keep asking me if I think Arizona's two senators will get away with it. I tell them I don't think so.

Everyone tells me I'm wrong because by the time elections come around everyone will forget. But this time, I don't think people will forget the strange alliance that existed between Charles Keating and Senators Dennis DeConcini and John McCain.

It will haunt the two senators through the rest of their days. It will dog them when they least expect it. And if they try to run again, the entire campaign will consist of their trying to deny that they had sold their souls to Charlie Keating.

Arizona's two senators can never wash away the stain of their involvement with the tall, gangling man who sold himself as a pillar of the Roman Catholic Church but who turned out to be one of the smoothest swindlers of our time. This is what DeConcini and McCain have going against them. Once a politician has been branded a kept man, there's no way to make voters forget. Not really. So for them, political life here in Arizona can never be the same. They are at the end of the game.

It's as though Keating had publicly torn the fabric of their political lives into shreds. Keating so openly purchased the loyalty of both that he succeeded only in destroying them. For DeConcini and McCain, there must be memories from the days before Keating, days when they were still on the way up and the breaks fell into their laps. McCain had been a prisoner of war in Vietnam. He moved to Arizona because a vacancy was opening up in the U.S. Congress. His status as a POW was enough to get him elected.

DeConcini got to Washington, D.C., by surprise. Nobody expected him to win his first Senate race. Later, after he gained incumbency, nobody had enough money to beat him.

Until Keating, both were considered hard to beat. Now their political biographies will be written in terms of their friendship with Keating. They took his money and they became his personal lackeys. They went to bat for him. It's as simple as that. The money went in one way and the "senatorial services" came out the other. 'Twas ever thus.

Both walked away from the shame of the Senate Ethics Committee hearings, claiming a victory that doesn't exist. They didn't win even though they were playing to a committee that wanted to exonerate but couldn't. A person who could figure DeConcini and McCain were faultless could just as easily reason that Saddam Hussein won the War in the Gulf.

They have been exposed as nothing more than a pair of cheap bagmen. DeConcini made a special trip to Phoenix to honor Keating with his presence at the opening of the Phoenician resort. McCain flew in Keating's private jets for his vacations, which he took at Keating's palatial home. These two were closer and more loyal to "Charlie" than they were to any of their other constituents.

But why shouldn't they have been? Keating had money, something both DeConcini and McCain clearly respect above all else. But voters know too much about these two shallow men now. They can hold all the press conferences they want. They can deny their guilt as many times as they want. It will make no difference.

From now on, each time the names of DeConcini and McCain pop up, voters will think "The Keating Five," a phrase that has become one of the most famous of our era.

I have an indelible image of Keating standing erectly before a crowded press conference in the Arizona Biltmore. Someone asks if he thinks his campaign contributions to DeConcini and McCain had swayed the senators. "Well, I certainly hope so," Keating says in a loud voice.

It is strange, isn't it, how this man took over Arizona in such a short time. He was against pornography. He gave a $1 million to Mother Teresa. He built houses. He threatened anyone who crossed him with a lawsuit. He threatened, at one point, to leave if he didn't get better press.

For Keating, Arizona was a pushover. And so were our two senators.

"Longevity conquers scandal every time," a student of the political scene once said.

Based on this philosophy, DeConcini and McCain apparently believe they will actually get away with it all. They think the voters will forget Keating and return them to the Senate for future terms.

I have news for them. Nobody is going to forget.

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Tom Fitzpatrick