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Righting Wrongs

I agree with Jason that it was a mistake for the Obama campaign to release its 13-minute Keating Five mini-doc today, but I'm not sure the McCain camp's immediate response was any less a mistake. McCain's attorney during the Keating scandal, John Dowd, took part in a conference call in which he described the Keating scandal as a "classic political smear job on John" and argued "I think what [McCain] did was perfectly appropriate."

This is a far cry from the ostentatious--and, by almost all accounts, genuine--contrition that McCain himself has long displayed regarding the matter. He's called his attendance at two meetings with regulators on Charles Keating's behalf "the wrong thing to do" and "the worst mistake of my life." He's even described the scandal as worse than the years he spent in a Vietnamese POW camp, because "The Vietnamese didn't question my honor."

Indeed, apart from his POW experience, the Keating scandal is generally described as the seminal event of McCain's political life, the experience that convinced him to begin crusading against money in politics and cultivating his reputation as a reformer.

McCain's very public self-correction is, in other words, a crucial chapter in the story of John McCain, The Last Honest Man in America. How that story is compatible with the new line coming out of his campaign that he never did anything wrong in the first place is far from clear. At the very least, he's probably opened himself up to a series of awkward followup questions he could easily have avoided.

--Christopher Orr