The five is alive

Ta-Nehisi, like many liberals, likes the Obama campaign's new Keating 5 video:

Don't know what to make of this. Part of me thinks it's stronger than the Wright/Ayers stuff because it's a personal attack with substance and policy behind it. In other words, it goes hard at McCain, but it also keeps the economy in the conversation. It's not just a random insult.

I have no doubt that this will hurt McCain.  But here's the problem with it:  John McCain regrets the Keating 5.  Indeed, you could say that his entire subsequent career has been one long apology for it. Repudiating what happened has formed the cornerstone of his current career; in a very real sense, it was the father of McCain-Feingold.

Now, I don't like the lessons that McCain seems to have taken from his extremely minor connection to the events of the S&L crisis (even Democrats from the time seem to admit that he was basically just thrown to the wolves to make it look like the Democrats weren't the only ones who had screwed the pooch).  And in fact I think that the Ayers connection is too tenuous to be interesting.  But there is a nugget of a real critique at its heart, which is that the academic culture Obama belongs to thinks its just fine to be a former active terrorist who has refused to renounce support for the violence committed by his group; that culture has rewarded Bill Ayers with prestigious employment and other positions in a way that it wouldn't dream of rewarding a similarly "idealistic" abortion clinic bomber.  I know it's hard to imagine, but if you're conservative, that seems like a real problem.

The problem Obama's critics have is not that he once spent some time talking to Bill Ayers; it's that he refuses to apologize for it now.   That refusal to apologize is why the charge has proven hard to counter.  You can argue that it isn't a big deal, but you can't argue it isn't true, and unfortunately for Obama, some voters think it is a really big deal.

If I were the McCain campaign, I would be throwing a hell of a lot of resources into making my own video.  They have an actual factually accurate and coherent narrative about how McCain has spent the last 20 years atoning for the Keating 5; I would tell that story.  I would ask why Obama is choosing to bring up this 20 year old scandal without mentioning that McCain has repeatedly regretted it.  And then I would throw in Ayers and Rezko and ask when Obama's going to apologize for his lapses in judgement.

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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