October 7, 2008  ·  Lessig

It has surprised me that this, the tremor before this recent financial disaster, the Keating Five scandal, has not been at the center of this campaign before. But now, apparently in response to Palin’s suggestion that the fact Obama knows Ayers is relevant to whether he should be president, the Obama campaign has released this very strong 15 minute documentary about the Keating scandal.

For those not old enough to remember, here’s the outline: 5 Senators, all of whom had received campaign funding from Charles Keating, intervene with regulators to get them to overlook criminal behavior by Keating, leading to the collapse of Lincoln Savings, leading to a $3.4 billion bill for Americans. The only one of those 5 Senators to receive both personal and political benefits from Keating: McCain.

Fair? Totally relevant to the question whether the judgment of this candidate is the sort that’s needed at this time. Totally relevant to the basic question whether his philosophy — deregulate — is what this sector needs at this time.

Wise? Not sure. I’m not sure Americans distinguish between hard-hitting-and-fair criticism (which this is) and hard-hitting-and-unfair criticism (which Palin’s is). One might worry that they’re “burn[ing] down the house to roast the pig” but I assume they’ve reckoned that.

But ugly? You bet.

  • http://interi.org maiki

    This is getting out of hand. I feel like the Obama campaign has gone over a parabola, and though I agree with the Obama/Biden platform, I get this sick feeling every time I hear them retaliate. It is pretty obvious that Palin is a bully, she doesn’t have much substance in terms of this election.

    It is like hearing of a family member getting engaged in a shouting match with a stranger. You want to be supportive, but it still feels compromising to get behind them.

    Larry, you are one of the most non-partisan thinkers I know of. Thanks for calling it like it is. Here’s to hoping the remaining debates will show us the good-natured, intelligent, and humble person Obama convinced me he is, and less talking/defensive points.

    Or we could have Biden debate McCain. They are already good buddies. ^_^

  • http://ideas.4brad.com Brad Templeton

    In a way, I view the Keating Five scandal as one of McCain’s strengths. He agreed it was a mistake to do what he did, because even though it was ruled not illegal, it looked bad. And then he became the leader in the senate for campaign finance reform. Somebody who learns from a mistake and dedicates himself to correcting it is more acceptable to me than those who continue to take the money.

    Of course, Obama’s sharing a board with somebody is also ancient news with even less bearing on Obama. But what Palin and McCain do in nasty campaigning in no way justifies that Obama do it.

    He should be able to win without it. Indeed, I think he should be able to win *because* he avoids going negative, or so I would have hoped.

  • src

    That’s a great sentiment, Brad, but unfortunately the electorate isn’t known for making entirely rational decisions. They frequently make decisions based upon lies, fear and prejudice, which is exactly how McCain is targeting his advertising. Obama can not just sit back and let it happen. Playing defense just turns it into McCain’s game to control – he decides what the issues being discussed are because he picks the attacks.

    The only positive in this is that Obama’s ad is based on facts, not lies, and is talking about real issues, not hot-button fears. Yep, it’s still negative, but it’s not hateful. I hope there’s enough sense left in this nation for the people to see the difference. The real key depends on how much McCain has alienated the media over the past couple of months, and how much they will buck their corporate directives in order to report the truth.

  • Rick

    Palin’s Obama/Ayers comments were way out of bounds. That issue was raised by the Clintons but was a non-starter in the face of investigative reporting (including the NY Times) that concluded that there simply was no story there.
    So given the mood of the country why would McCain advocate reference to violent activism? Most any of us, right or left or moderate, would consider it irresponsible for a national figure to dredge up this stuff. Stupid and desperate (a bad combination)? Maybe. Simply “win at all cost” campaigning? Maybe.
    Or perhaps planting the notion of domestic terrorism might precipitate an “event.” Recall that Bush in a recent statement referred to the “angry left.” What reason does he have to do that except to antagonize? Let’s be aware that we’re dealing with a Republication party and administration that only plays by its own rules. An “event” now would likely be blamed on the “angry left” with little chance of ferreting out the facts before the election. We need to be hyperalert to this possibility for the next few weeks. It would be the ultimate swiftboating tactic.

    As to the Obama response: I think most of us, whatever our political persuasion, are pretty sick of negative campaigning. Or maybe, like Romans at the Coliseum, we need the dirt and the blood to titillate us. In any case, response seems to be required to offset the notion of possible truth or perceived weakness. The Keating response is, I think, appropriate.

  • DQKennard

    Though I’m an Obama supporter, I don’t agree with the decision to poke McCain on Keating. Tactically, I think it’s a mistake because it’s old, McCain was found to be the least at-fault of the five (where the other four were Democrats), and I don’t think he has to go negative in that way. Having said that, I also don’t think it would be a good tactic to just ignore the McCain attacks. Passively ignoring attacks has certainly hurt Democrats in the past, raising perceptions of weakness (false as those perceptions may be). I’ve seen the release of the Keating video described as a sort of “brush back” pitch, to use a baseball metaphor. It’s at least got some relevance to the current financial situation, and I think they effectively tie McCain’s actions then to his long history of touting deregulation. As the perceived leader, though, and with more money, Obama has the luxury of not staying all-negative-all-the-time.

    I don’t expect the “brushback” to have much effect. I think the attacks on Obama will intensify, and become more and more outrageous. I also think that if that happens, the next Obama response/escalation of negativity could be to more directly address McCain’s gambliing history.

  • Wes

    Given the current financial crisis, it is entirely appropriate to take a hard look at the fact that McCain was a key player in the previous financial crisis. McCain will claim that he learned from his, rather epic, mistake. If that’s the case, why is one of McCain’s closest financial advisers none other Phil Gramm? Phil Gramm was the primary author of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act which is thought by many to be largely responsible for the the current financial crisis (by repealing financial services regulation) . Gramm was also a co-sponsor of the “Enron Loophole” which has been blamed for allowing the Enron collapse to occur.

  • Robin

    Keating is wholly relevant given the events in the economy over the past weeks. Moreso, when coupled with McCain’s strong propensity to deregulate, deregulate, deregulate ever since the Keating Scandel, it shows one very key thing about his judgment: that he HAS NOT well learned from mistakes.

  • http://www.freedomspeaks.com Jason Kiesel

    Robin – You seem to forget that is was McCain that tried to bring forth legislation back in 2003 that attempted to regulate the bad loans Fannie and Freddie were making. I think he learned just fine from his mistakes. Unfortunately, the Dems blocked the legislation because they wanted to make home ownership more affordable to those that can’t actually afford it.

    Jason Kiesel
    Founder & CEO
    http://www.freedomspeaks.com

  • Oliver

    How is democracy in America expected to survive when the liberal debate – as here – is characterised by hand-wringing over whther a Democratic candidate should engage his opponent in a manner one might charitably describe as “robust” and more accurately “a mere statement of the case”?

    You’re emasculating yourselves. You face an opposition unfettered by any concern for the truth or objectivity and insist on bending over backwards to meet a standard of fair play that is simply unappreciated or ignored by your electorate. The mainstream media talks about “terrorist fist-bumps” and madrasas; the press remains utterly supine. Nothing and no-one holds the Right to account, and you seem happy for this to remain the case

    The noise you can hear in the background is that of the swift boats starting their engines. For the sake of the rest of us around the world, please, please grow a pair and take the fight to the Republicans. Palin has a book that tells her that “there is a time to fight and a time to win”; if Democrats really believe that telling the truth, supported by evidence, amounts to negative campaigning, she deserves to.

  • src

    Jason, you might want to document your assertions. If you are speaking of the Federal Housing Enterprise Regulatory Reform Act of 2005, then Mr. McCain didn’t add his name to that legislation until May 2006, just months before the housing market started it’s implosion. Hardly a “frontrunner”, and certainly not a real attempt to “bring forth legislation” – I credit the authors of the legislation with that distinction.

  • http://www.kathryncramer.com Kathryn Cramer

    I have tried to say as little about Barack Obama as possible during this campaign, because although I plan to vote for him and did send his campaign ten bucks because Michael Chabon told me to, every time I look closely at his positions on issues, I feel like he ought to be on the other side of the party line. To me he seems like a plausible opposition candidate. He’s basically a centrist, and in the US the “center” is pretty far right. I have looked longingly from the sidelines wishing I could be as enthusiastic as some of my friends and have kept my mouth shut about Obama more than I like.

    The Keating Economics was the first thing I’ve seen out of his campaign that has made me really enthusiastic and made me feel on the same wavelength with his supporter. Go Obama!

    I should say also that my fiscally conservative republican husband was also favorably impressed by it, especially in its intimacy and management of tone.

  • http://127.0.0.1/ Ajay

    While I find the negative attacks odious as well, I don’t think Obama has any choice in this matter.
    It is very shameful for Palin to dredge up the Ayers non-issue, when she herself has been linked with the Alaska Independence Party, a known secessionist outfit; their leader refused to be buried in the US, under the American flag. Palin’s husband was a member of this party for some time; and she gave the opening address at their annual convention this year.

    The problem is: the electorate are being scared into not voting for Obama. Using coded references, they (McCain/Palin) are trying to scare the voters on issues such as race (“he doesn’t see America like you and I do”) or religion (“he could be a muslim”).

    So Obama has no choice but to hit back, and hit back hard.

    For all the people who are hand-wringing about this latest turn of events: look what good taking the high road did to Kerry. He got slaughtered. Keep taking the high road, and keep losing. Or hit back and hit back hard, and stand a chance. Your call.

  • Mark

    Presenting the Keating Five story with a web site seems smart. It gets the story out there, but it provides no sound bites or video clips of an angry candidate for the media to use.

  • http://www.myspace.com/musicgrinder Bill Moore

    Unfortunately, the Republican’s have learned that the human mind is more enthralled by negatives than positives. It raises a fight/flight reaction that stays with us far longer than feel good news. That’s largely why the nightly news is 95% negative. It’s what people want to watch.

    Obama has no choice but to counter. It’s stupid, it sucks, I hate it and I don’t want it but I know.. I just KNOW that he has no choice.

    He might as well talk about the Palin/secessionist party connection – an Alaska based party her husband belonged to for 7 years that espoused armed resistance of the US government and creating a new country called Alaska. And that she’s a tax evader. And that McCain likes to call his wife a c*nt in public (well documented) and how McCain crashed 5 planes, and the incident where he did a purposeful ‘wet’ takeoff (a boneheaded hotshot trick consisting of pooling fuel to blow a huge flame into the face of the plane behind him) which set off a missile on that plane and resulted in the the death of 167 men…. (and on and on).

    God I hate the last 30 days.

  • http://www.xero.net Ryan Petty

    Or McCain could counter with this:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_MGT_cSi7Rs

    Although not directly linking Obama, it shows that Democrats have failed to properly oversee and regulate during the S&L times (4 of the Keating 5 were Democrats) and now with Fannie and Freddie.

  • Elizabeth

    Unbelievable. Not that this happened in the ’80s — I knew about it then — but the response that maybe Obama has gone too far, we have to be careful of the spin, etc. Have we not grown up at all in the past two weeks?

    We need facts right now. And yes, the Democrats also contributed to our current problems. But the fact is, McCain “couldn’t even get Keating right.”

    I agree with Lessig when he says that the surprising thing is not that this came out but that it came out so late. That Obama had to be apparently pushed by the Palin accusation into mentioning the Keating 5. I was mentioning it last spring and summer. It was like being in outer space, where no one can hear you scream. Oh, that was a long time ago. He’s reformed from all that. He was a minor player in it, and he got out before it became really illegal. All lame excuses for a guy who doesn’t see what’s before him. He sees only ideologies and rhetoric and symbols and loyalty and some weird idea of “honor.”

    How anyone could want eight more years of that laundry list of horrors is beyond me. It plugs into a damaged part of ourselves.

    By the way, I’m still waiting for Lessig to respond to the Saturday Night Live bailout skit that was “re-edited” “for legal reasons.” While the lawyers were scrambling yesterday, the thing went viral all over the ‘net. So much for damage control. When I saw the edited version, I was surprised that it merely omitted the place accompanied by the caption “People who should be shot.” If the Sandlers, the couple depicted there, had any grounds for libel, it would be in the factual dialogue about how they allegedly swindled Wachovia Bank into buying subprime mortgage assets, because they have not yet been formally charged. That’s still in there. The only thing missing is the perfectly legal opinion, presented as a joke, as to what we “should” do to people who do this.

    Legal reasons, my eye.

    I remembered “Free Culture” and the lack of archiving requirements for broadcasting companies, who rent the public airwaves and then piously cite copyright law when people want access to their archives. They could actually, legally, destroy everything. Or re-edit anything — in effect, rewriting history.

    Postscript about NBC: when it re-posted its “edited” version of the SNL skit, it stuck an ad in there. Just to remind us little folks who writes the rules around here. Don’t forget to buy stuff.

  • Elizabeth

    Unbelievable. Not that this happened in the ’80s — I knew about it then — but the response that maybe Obama has gone too far, we have to be careful of the spin, etc. Have we not grown up at all in the past two weeks?

    We need facts right now. And yes, the Democrats also contributed to our current problems. But the fact is, McCain “couldn’t even get Keating right.”

    I agree with Lessig when he says that the surprising thing is not that this came out but that it came out so late. That Obama had to be apparently pushed by the Palin accusation into mentioning the Keating 5. I was mentioning it last spring and summer. It was like being in outer space, where no one can hear you scream. Oh, that was a long time ago. He’s reformed from all that. He was a minor player in it, and he got out before it became really illegal. All lame excuses for a guy who doesn’t see what’s before him. He sees only ideologies and rhetoric and symbols and loyalty and some weird idea of “honor.”

    How anyone could want eight more years of that laundry list of horrors is beyond me. It plugs into a damaged part of ourselves.

    By the way, I’m still waiting for Lessig to respond to the Saturday Night Live bailout skit that was “re-edited” “for legal reasons.” While the lawyers were scrambling yesterday, the thing went viral all over the ‘net. So much for damage control. When I saw the edited version, I was surprised that it merely omitted the place accompanied by the caption “People who should be shot.” If the Sandlers, the couple depicted there, had any grounds for libel, it would be in the factual dialogue about how they allegedly swindled Wachovia Bank into buying subprime mortgage assets, because they have not yet been formally charged. That’s still in there. The only thing missing is the perfectly legal opinion, presented as a joke, as to what we “should” do to people who do this.

    Legal reasons, my eye.

    I remembered “Free Culture” and the lack of archiving requirements for broadcasting companies, who rent the public airwaves and then piously cite copyright law when people want access to their archives. They could actually, legally, destroy everything. Or re-edit anything — in effect, rewriting history.

    Postscript about NBC: when it re-posted its “edited” version of the SNL skit, it stuck an ad in there. Just to remind us little folks who writes the rules around here. Don’t forget to buy stuff.

  • http://editthis.info/wiki42/ Nerd42

    I guess criticizing the associates of the candidate you dislike is “hard-hitting-and-fair criticism” but if it’s about the candidate you like, then it’s “hard-hitting-and-unfair criticism”.

  • Rook

    I think this may be part of a standoff behind the scenes. Something along the lines of the Obama campaign threatening the McCain campaign not to release Ayers or they’ll hit on Keating; not to touch Michelle or they’ll release something on Cindy; not to pull an October surprise because they have one of their own. With McCain having called the bluff and hit on Ayers, the Obama campaign was forced to either back up their ultimatum or let McCain think he could get away with anything. This was probably meant to stem a flow of much worse dirt and retaliation.

    Just a hunch on my part.

  • dm

    Brad Templeton: I agree that McCain’s erstwhile regret over the Keating scandal spoke well of him — as recently as a few years ago. Now? In response to the Obama campaign bringing it up again? “It was a political smear job” (see URL referenced below, which begins very much as your comment does) — not the material from the Obama campaign, but original Keating investigation. Seemingly, he no longer regrets it. One wonders if he ever did, or if he saw the political value in contrition.

    http://www.politico.com/blogs/bensmith/1008/Engaging_on_Keating.html