What Makes John McCain Run?

John McCain can stop running now. The race is over.

It's time for McCain to sit erect in a chair with television cameras whirring and face the Senate Ethics Committee. The long-awaited hearings into the savings-and-loan scandal begin Thursday in Washington, D.C.

McCain is the most interesting of all the five defendant senators. No one was closer to Charles Keating than McCain. And no one has wriggled and twisted more vigorously in an effort to distance himself since Keating went down.

He has fought the Ethics Committee for weeks, demanding that he be set free from the hearings and citing a report that he and Senator John Glenn of Ohio are not culpable in the matter.

The Ethics Committee refused to drop McCain from the hearings. This week we will learn whether McCain has been bluffing.

Although McCain doesn't have to run for office again until 1992, he has been campaigning as furiously as possible during the past few months, attempting to convince his colleagues and constituents of his virtue.

He has been on talk shows, television shows and meetings with Arizona Republic editors. When Fife Symington walked off the podium last week at 4 a.m. to go home for some sleep after the election, McCain was at his side.

McCain had to figure that if the cameras were on Symington they were also on the state's junior senator.

It has been impossible to go through an entire day in Arizona without seeing, hearing or reading about McCain and his days as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

But there are facts that many remember. McCain behaved like a faithful lap dog for Charlie Keating all those years when McCain was a congressman trying to make it into the United States Senate.

And when Keating called in all his markers and asked the five senators he had bought to go to bat for him, McCain showed up at the now-notorious meetings in Senator Dennis DeConcini's office.

McCain was there and active in attempting to intimidate the federal regulators. The intimidation worked and Keating was granted ample time to loot millions more before he was finally stopped.

Now, McCain must explain his activities to the Ethics Committee.

You can expect him to admit he has made some minor mistakes. He will admit to knowing Keating. But he will emphasize again and again that he never did anything wrong. And he will emphasize that he worked no harder for Keating than he did for any of his other Arizona constituents.

McCain has even convinced himself that it wasn't questionable to accept $112,000 from Keating for his election campaign.

There was also nothing wrong with the fact that his wife and father-in-law were given a sweetheart deal in a shopping-center development with Keating.

Nor was it wrong to fly on Keating's private jet free of charge.
And there was nothing wrong with taking his family to vacation with Keating at his palatial home in the Bahamas.

Most of the senators who took money from Keating for their election campaigns have returned the money to the government.

McCain has held on to his $112,000, waiting, he says, for Keating to be proven guilty of some wrongdoing.

He is one of the most consummate con artists in the United States Senate, an organization comprised of con artists. You can expect a glib, polished performance.

He will appear humble and repentant. He will speak of honor. He will probably mention the fact that he was a prisoner of war, but that this experience in the savings-and-loan investigation was even more of an ordeal.

Who knows if his story will sell?
The stakes are incredibly high for McCain. There was a time, before the Keating bubble burst, when he was reportedly being considered for a spot on the Republican ticket as vice president.

Those days are over.

Now, McCain must run twice as fast just to avoid being publicly condemned by his own colleagues.