The Note: Populism Now

"[McCain's] task is complicated by the tension between his plans to continue many of the economic policies of the unpopular incumbent Republican president he hopes to succeed, and his pledges to improve the American economy and shake up Washington," Michael Cooper writes in The New York Times. "Beyond striking a more populist tone and more explicitly acknowledging the nation's economic problems, his campaign also began an effort Tuesday to cast him as a strong leader with profound experience on economic issues, given his service on the Senate Commerce Committee, where he was chairman for six years."

"McCain was operating from a defensive posture, after his expression of confidence in the economy at a rally Monday in Jacksonville, Fla., on the same day the stock market slid more than 500 points," Michael Finnegan and Noam M. Levey write in the Los Angeles Times.

"McCain, in a striking departure from his platform of corporate tax breaks and an extension of President Bush's tax cuts, assumed the mantle of economic populist, blasting what he called the 'reckless conduct, corruption, and unbridled greed' of Wall Street and railing against multimillion-dollar severance packages for CEOs as 'disgraceful,' " Scott Helman writes in The Boston Globe.

If the McCain response to the economy seemed to evolve, Hotline shows it did, with a timeline of what he said this week: "A look at John McCain's response to the market downfall and the swirl of related news shows a marked evolution in the GOPer's language -- from reformer to crisis herald to populist, a position that could moderate Obama's edge on the issue. That said, the McCain camp seems to be struggling to find its footing, and the candidate has been forced to eat some of his words, and, gulp, utter others that seem positively Democratic in nature."

McCain supported the major deregulation legislation that passed a Republican Congress in the '90s and was written by his (erstwhile? current?) adviser Phil Gramm. But it was signed by President Clinton. And Robert Scheer looks at McCain's history on deregulation and the company Obama keeps.

"(McCain's) past support of congressional deregulation efforts and his arguments against 'government interference' in the free market by federal, state and local officials have given Sen. Barack Obama an opening to press the advantage Democrats traditionally have in times of economic trouble," Michael Shear writes in The Washington Post.

Enter Douglas Holtz-Eakin, channeling Al Gore, holding up his BlackBerry to serve as a visual: "Asked what work John McCain did as chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee "He did this," Holtz-Eakin told reporters Tuesday, per Politico's Amie Parnes. "So you're looking at the miracle John McCain helped create and that's what he did."

And how about Carly Fiorina -- asked if Sarah Palin could run a major corporation: "No, I don't," she replied. "But that's not what she's running for."

Then, she made it worse: "I don't think John McCain could run a major corporation."

"McCain also tripped up yesterday, claiming that 'I was chairman of the Commerce Committee that oversights every part of our economy,' " Michael D. Shear writes in The Washington Post. "In fact, the committee's scope legally excludes 'credit, financial services, and housing' -- the very areas now in crisis."

(Does this mean Team McCain has to bench two of its top economic surrogates, just when he needs them on the field?)

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