The Company You Keep

Paul Heller

John McCain sure has some unsavory characters running his campaign... What does that say about him?
America loves nothing more than a war hero, and we've got one on the ballot this year: Senator John McCain (R., Arizona). But then, former California congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham is also a war hero. What's the difference? Both are Republicans, but while McCain is running for president, Cunningham is serving an eight-year prison sentence for influence-peddling.

That's a fine line, considering all the things John McCain has done in his political career. It all began with the S & L scandal of the mid-'80s. Among the bigger fish in that tank were Charles Keating and Neil Bush. In today's money, the $3.4 billion taxpayer bailout seems pretty small, but at the time it created quite a bit of sticker shock.

Worse than that were the substantial number of failed marriages, even suicides, that resulted from Keating's junk-bond scheme. There was some minor political backlash as well, and the most prominent name among the "Keating Five" was that of John Sydney McCain III.

He claimed his intervention on Keating's behalf - protracting the scam for two more devastating years - was based on constituency, as it involved a major employer in his home state. The resulting official Ethics Committee rebuke didn't really cite anything beyond "poor judgment", but it's in his file nonetheless.

Years later, McCain commandeered a sweetheart deal for his developer friend, Donald Diamond, who acquired former Fort Ord property in Seaside, California for a quarter of a million dollars, and sold it two years later for $20 million. Again, this was described by an aide as a "constituent matter". (Read: Contributor matter.)

Worse than what The Maverick does is what his staffers do. Former co-campaign chairman Phil Gramm is personally responsible for all manner of failed U.S. economic policies, from oil speculation to the sub-prime mortgage crisis. Gramm had to leave Team McCain after he called the American people "whiners", and he also had his thumb in the S & L soup.

Two more advisors, Dougs Goodyear and Davenport (of the right-wing media machine DCI Group) did some lobbying for the junta in Myanmar, which did such a good job managing that cyclone last spring. Top aide Charlie Black - who said that a terrorist attack in the homeland would help McCain's chances - earned his wealth from dictators like Jonas Zavimbi.

McCain's foreign policy wonk, Randy Scheunemann, even did some image-burnishing for the Eastern European country heretofore known as Georgia, which had the good sense to go to war with Russia last week. His services only cost them $800,000. Think they got their money's worth?

Even in the red-state homeland, McCain finds himself in trouble. Yet another lobbyist, Rick Davis, once brokered a deal to sell Ohio-based Airborne Express to the German company DHL - which now wants to route its packages through Louisville, potentially costing thousands of Ohioans their jobs. Davis is merely McCain's campaign chairman.

I know, this is all very boring, but for every wart the Republicans think they can find on Barack Obama, one can point out the many... Well, I guess we shouldn't get too nasty about this. After all, the man's a war hero.

pH 8.16.o8