He may be “Senator McClean” and the buddy of the press corps now, whom he invites to his barbecues and is always a back-slap away on the campaign bus for both Straight Talk and straight talk, and the occasional bawdy story or joke, but there was a time when John McCain was known as an angry and compromised Senator. He was chastened by his involvement in the Keating Five scandal, where McCain and four Democratic Senators were implicated in the acceptance of several hundred thousand dollars in campaign contributions from Lincoln Savings and Loan Association chair Charles Keating, and had subsequently interfered in a Federal Home Loan Bank Board investigation against Keating.
McCain received $112,000 in contributions from Keating, but it was determined in a 1989 investigation by the Arizona Republic that the junior Senator from the Grand Canyon State had a more complicated involvement with Keating, in that McCain’s wife and father had invested $359,100 in 1986 in a Keating shopping center, and that the McCains had accepted trips to the Bahamas on Keating’s plane. As the Arizona Republic reported on their attempts to interview McCain about his heretofore undisclosed dealings with Keating found the Senator a wee bit prickly and exhibiting an attitude many would consider far short of cooperative.
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?”
That’s a whole lot of surly and a far cry from the man about whom MSNBC’s Chris Matthews said, “The press loves McCain. We’re his base.” That micturition moment was where McCain learned his lesson about how to deal with the media, and, from that point forward, embarked on a campaign to ingratiate himself with the press that continues to this day. He learned that you can catch a lot more flies with honey than vinegar and this strategy has proved a fairly smashing success. A McCain interview is embarrassingly close to a Tom Jones concert, with the press practically throwing their panties onstage when The Candidate steps up to speak.
On the night of George Bush’s 2008 State Of The Union Address, Matthews welcomed McCain on Hardball with a gushing, “There he is! Senator McCain! You know you’re in my heart. I have to tell you, the President gave your speech tonight. He talked about we got to cut the number of earmarks in half or I’m going to veto the bill, he talked about..about the war against terrorism, he talked about reform. It was…he didn’t talk about much about the global economic challenge right now. In fact, he said basically we’ll get through this like you do. It was your speech, Senator.” Good lord. I’d rather hear about Barack Obama making his leg tingle. (And I don’t understand the impetus beyond the trend I’m seeing in Chris Matthews’ non-sexual man-love declarations, but I suppose that’s a discussion for another day.)
But that brings us to where we are today, and why McCain had, has, and continues to get a relative free ride from the media. And that’s why he’s able to claim on his website, “Too often the special interest lobbyists with the fattest wallets and best access carry the day when issues of public policy are being decided,” while in the same breath his campaign staff is absolutely stinking with lobbyists, and that you can’t pick up the paper or turn on the radio without hearing of another lobbyist leave the McCain campaign under pressure seemingly with the same frequency that Barack Obama is acquiring superdelegates.
In the past several weeks, McCain has shed no less than five prominent lobbyists from major roles in his campaign, and McCain–the man who professed to have come into this campaign as clean as a hound’s tooth–has had to impose a new conflict-of-interest policy on his campaign. Tom Loeffler left the campaign after it was disclosed that his lobbying firm had accepted nearly $15 million from the Saudi Arabia government. He claimed that at no time had he ever discussed John McCain with the Saudi government, but he didn’t mention the May 17, 2006 meeting between Loeffler, Senator McCain, and the Saudi ambassador.
According to The Trail blog on washingtonpost.com, McCain previously lost two Dougs in his fight–in Doug Davenport and Doug Goodyear–who left after acknowedging their contracting for the government of Burma. He also lost Eric Burgeson, who was McCain’s energy-policy adviser and also is lead energy practice adviser at Barbour Griffith & Rogers LLC.
Also last seen taking his box of personal effects out to his car was Craig Shirley of Shirley & Bannister Public Affairs–which bills itself as “the nation’s oldest conservative lobbying organization.” Craig has helped bring to the American political conversation such high-water marks as the 1988 Willie Horton ad.
They may have some of the foals left, but it’s the big pony who’s important, and Charlie Black is still in the stable. But more on this tomorrow night….