McCain’s experience with the Keating affair is significant, relevant, and important, because it reveals his attitude on how the banking industry should be governed.

A few weeks ago, Bill Press at The Hill put it thusly:

McCain co-sponsored legislation relaxing regulations on savings and loans and allowing them to gamble investor funds on certain highly risky financial ventures. Sound familiar?

For his role in aiding Keating, McCain received only a reprimand for “poor judgment” from the Senate Ethics Committee. But, ever since, the “Keating Five” has been the symbol of how much influence money can buy in Washington. And McCain, having learned nothing from the experience, then turned around and repeated the same tricks on Wall Street.

In 2000, McCain supported legislation authored by Sen. Phil Gramm that forbade federal agencies from regulating financial derivatives that greased the skids for passing along risky mortgage-backed securities to investors. Today we’re suffering the consequences.

Gramm’s legislation was the key. Without it, AIG could never have veered from the solid ground of life insurance onto the shaky ground of sub-prime mortgages. And John McCain championed that legislation.

So just to sum up, Obama-Ayers is irrelevant because Obama wasn’t involved in any wrongdoing; McCain-Keating means a lot because McCain was reprimanded, and because it exemplifies the dangers inherent in his deregulatory economic philosophy. Not equal. Apples and oranges.

Today, New York Times columnist David Brooks joined the herd in equating Ayers and Keating:

Today, leaders around the world have to figure out how to stabilize economies amid volatile global capital flows. … This is the test. This is the problem that will consume the next president. Meanwhile, the two candidates for that office are talking about Bill Ayers and Charles Keating.

Alas. We should be talking about Keating, and not about Ayers. There are substantial parallels between the resolution of the Keating mess and the current bailout, wherein the federal government stepped in to absorb losses on behalf of S&L banks then, and mortgage lenders, now.

The old adage is the those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. The moral of the Keating scandal is that McCain is guilty of this very sin. Having seen firsthand the harm of regulation, he could have actually sounded the warning bells —not just claim he did as a stump speech.

Obama’s sin is working sporadically with a man who, long ago, engaged in substantial wrongdoing. These two things are not analogous, and any implication that they are is wrong, wrong, wrong.

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Katia Bachko is on staff at The New Yorker.