As the presidential campaign enters its final days, John McCain is emerging as a case study in what psychologists term "projection." Perhaps still feeling guilty about the mountain of cash from Charles Keating which almost ended his career 20 years ago, McCain is instead attacking Barack Obama's stunning fundraising success. As it turns out, McCain's affliction is so severe that he is blasting the very kind of small donor network he once extolled.
Facing the $150 million avalanche of campaign cash to the Obama campaign in September, Team McCain went on the offensive. On Monday morning, campaign chairman and lobbyist extraordinaire Rick Davis held a conference call to complain about the "September fundraising totals and the Obama campaign's troubling lack of transparency." Appearing on Fox News Sunday, McCain himself made the case to voters that Obama's windfall today will bring scandal tomorrow:
"I'm saying it's laying a predicate for the future that can be very dangerous. History shows us where unlimited amounts of money are in political campaigns, it leads to scandal."
John McCain should know. After all, his close relationship to S&L villain Charles Keating and his unlimited political bankroll led directly to the Keating Five scandal which almost derailed his future in Washington.
Earlier this year, the Boston Globe summarized McCain's close relationship with Keating and his decision to intervene with federal regulators on his behalf:
McCain met Keating in 1982, during McCain's successful run for Congress, and soon began accepting offers from Keating to fly McCain's family on a corporate plane to Keating's house in the Bahamas. McCain did not pay for most of the trips until years later, when the matter became public.
Keating, meanwhile, complained regularly to McCain that a proposed regulation would hurt his business. Known as the "direct investment" rule, it limited the amount that savings-and-loan institutions could invest from their assets. In 1985, after having "heard frequently from Charlie on the matter," McCain decided that Keating's complaints "were sound enough to warrant our assistance." He cosponsored a resolution sought by Keating, but it failed to postpone the regulation, McCain wrote in his autobiography.
By then, Keating was one of McCain's most important benefactors; McCain received $112,000 in campaign donations from Keating and his Lincoln associates, mostly between 1982 and 1986.
It was in April 1987 that McCain fatefully joined four other senators in meeting with Edwin Gray, chairman of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board in Washington. After that meeting, Gray told his associate William K. Black that he was "very upset" that the senators were trying to pressure him.
Ultimately, a Senate ethics panel agreed with that assessment. California Democrat Alan Cranston was censured for "an impermissible pattern of conduct," while Senators DeConcini (D-AZ) and Riegle (D-MI) were criticized for actions which "gave the appearance of being improper." As for McCain, he and John Glenn (D-OH) were admonished for exercising "poor judgment."
Fast forward two decades and McCain is once again showing poor judgment. The disclosure that Obama campaign disclosed Sunday that 632,000 new donors and an average contribution of $86 in September prompted McCain to go on the warpath against the very small dollar democracy he once championed.
In January 2004, McCain told Greta Van Susteren of Fox News that "I think the Internet is going to change American politics for the better" after noting:
"I think it's wonderful that Howard Dean was able to use the Internet, $50, $75, $100 contributions. That's what we want it to be all about. We want average citizens to contribute small amounts of money, and that's a commitment to a campaign. So I'm for that. I think it's a great thing."
That June, McCain said of "small campaign contributions, $50, $75" simply, "that's wonderful."
Not so wonderful, it turns out, if the recipient of that grassroots enthusiasm is McCain's opponent, Barack Obama.
One online dictionary defines projection as "the attribution of one's own attitudes, feelings, or desires to someone or something as a naive or unconscious defense against anxiety or guilt." Given his checkered Keating Five past and his efforts to exorcise his personal demons through campaign finance reform, John McCain's finger-pointing at Barack Obama over fundraising may be just the latest manifestation of his own projection.
Or McCain could be suffering from another psychological condition altogether. Trailing in the polls as Election Day nears, John McCain could be exhibiting the signs of denial.