The Inconvenient Friends of Obama and McCain

The Comparison
The controversy over Barack Obama's former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., calls to mind another personal association that nearly clipped a rising-star politician. In 1987, John McCain intervened in the investigation of a savings and loan run by his friend and patron Charles Keating, whose company later headlined the S&L crisis.

Why It Works
Both inconvenient friends undercut the public image of their pals in office, and both candidates made politically tin-eared choices by consorting with them. The Reverend Wright is hot and divisive, while Obama's message is cool and inclusive. And Keating served four years for fraud, while McCain campaigns as an ethics crusader.

Why It Doesn't
McCain's favor to a well-heeled friend and Obama's allegiance to a fiery black minister raise very different questions of character. Also, while McCain faced down expulsion from the Senate and jail for corruption—since Keating had given $114,000 to McCain's campaigns— Obama's worst case is a lost election.