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Is Now The Time To Be Talking About Keating?

So the Obama campaign is now playing the Keating card--launching a website, keatingeconomics.com, that features a 13-minute documentary on McCain's involvement in the Keating Five scandal. I'm not a fan of this move.

I don't doubt that the Keating Five is a legitimate issue for Obama to raise. First, as Ben Smith notes, "the story of McCain and Keating is not guilt by association; it's guilt by guilt." Second, anything that highlights McCain's zeal for deregulation of the financial sector--as his going to bat for Keating's S&L certainly did--is obviously relevant in the current political climate. But I question the timing of Obama playing the Keating card, coming immediately on the heels of the McCain campaign's decision to make Bill Ayers an issue.

On a day when the Dow has dipped below 10,000 for the first time in four years, Obama has a real opportunity to take McCain's Ayers gambit and use it as yet another example of McCain being out of touch. Obama could cut one of those one- or two-minute ads that show him speaking directly to the camera and saying something like, "On a day when we appear to be teetering on the brink of a global recession and people are worried about their economic futures, John McCain wants to 'turn the page' and talk about the 40-year-old actions of a man whom I barely know and whose actions I've deemed despicable. . ." and then pivot to a discussion of his economic plan. Such an ad would reenforce the thing that's most distinguished Obama from McCain during the financial crisis: Obama's sober, serious side. Why not continue to play that up?

Instead, the Obama campaign decided to bring up Keating--which, while a legitimate issue, runs the risk of being interpreted as a case of tit for tat: I'll see your Ayers and raise you a Keating. That's the way it was cast on NPR this morning (after a mention of the day's top story about our impending financial ruin). And at a time when voters are freaking out about losing their life savings, the candidate who makes a point of not playing politics--or at least of seeming not to play politics--is the candidate who's making the smart political play. Obama's made a lot of smart political plays up to this point; I'm surprised he didn't make this one.

--Jason Zengerle