In Jacksonville, Fla., this morning, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., repeated a line Democrats have been using against him for months.
"The fundamentals of our economy are strong," he said.
McCain also said that “these are very, very difficult times,” but the window had been opened.
Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and his running mate, Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., had already planned to attack McCain on the economy, and with the bad Wall Street news about Merrill Lynch and Lehman Brothers, McCain’s remarks provided an easy opportunity to paint the Republican as out of touch.
“We just woke up to news of financial disaster, and this morning he said that the fundamentals of the economy are still strong,” Obama told an estimated crowd of 5,800 at the Cross Orchards Historic Site in Grand Junction, Colo. “Sen. McCain –- what economy are you talking about?
“What’s more fundamental than the ability to find a job that pays the bills and can raise a family?” Obama asked, his voice rising. “What’s more fundamental than knowing that your life savings is secure, and that you can retire with dignity? What’s more fundamental than knowing that you’ll have a roof over your head at the end of the day?”
At a rally at South Lake High School in St. Claire Shores, Mich., Biden chimed in, as well, saying, “just as George Herbert Walker Bush was nicknamed ‘Bush 41’ and his son is known as ‘Bush 43,’ John McCain could easily become known as ‘Bush 44.’” Hammering McCain’s remarks in Jacksonville, Biden said, “Friends, I could walk from here to Lansing, and I wouldn’t run into a single person who thought our economy was doing well, unless I ran into John McCain.”
McCain has been making the same basic argument for months, as in June (watch HERE) or in August, when he told Laura Ingraham on her radio show, “I still believe the fundamentals of our economy are strong. We’ve got terribly big challenges now, whether it be housing or employment or so many of the other — health care. It’s very, very tough times. It’s very tough. But we’re still the most innovative, the most productive, the greatest exporter, the greatest importer. Every new advancement, literally, in technology that has created this new economy throughout the world, has come from the United States economy. Do we have a lot of things to fix, do we have big challenges? Yes. But I also believe America’s best days are ahead of us.”
Obama often takes the optimistic statement about the economy and extricates it from its myriad qualifiers to suggest that McCain doesn’t know that there are problems economically.
McCain in the past has shrugged off his opponent’s frequent out-of-context use of his quote, but today, McCain quickly tried to revise and extend his statement (as is senatorial prerogative), suggesting some concern, if not panic, by the McCain campaign.
In an Orlando afternoon event, McCain sounded quite a different note on the economy, saying, “The American economy is in crisis, it is in a crisis. People tonight will be sitting around the kitchen table trying to figure out how they’re going to stay in their homes, how they’re going to keep their job, how they’re going to put food on the table. And America is in a crisis today and unemployment is on the rise and our financial markets are in turmoil.”
McCain also offered a new definition of what the “fundamentals” were that he was calling strong; He said he’d been merely referring to the American worker.
“My opponents may disagree, but those fundamentals, the American worker and their innovation, their entrepreneurship, the small business, those are the fundamentals of America, and I think they’re strong,” McCain said. Those fundamentals, he did add, “are being threatened today because of the greed and corruption some engaged in, in Wall Street and we have got to fix it.”
This seemed a different definition than the one McCain offered in April, when he told Bloomberg News “the fundamentals of America’s economy are strong. We’re the greatest exporter, the greatest importer, the greatest innovator, the greatest producer, still the greatest economic engine in the world. And, by the way, exports and free trade are a key element in economic recovery.”
Obama had already been planning on attacking McCain on the economy, and he today blamed "the most serious financial economic crisis since the Great Depression” on “the economic policies (McCain) subscribes to, … a philosophy that says even common sense regulations are unnecessary or unwise."
Obama observed that a new TV ad for McCain and his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, borrows one of Obama’s trademark lines, saying McCain and Palin offer, "leadership, experience, for the change we need."
"Instead of borrowing some of my lines, he needs to borrow some of my ideas," Obama said. "Change isn’t about slogans — it’s about substance."
Obama also said that "it’s great that (McCain) now wants to talk about putting corporate lobbyists in their place. But he needs to explain why he put seven of them in charge of his campaign."
Listing some of the corporate interests those McCain campaign officials work for, Obama said, "If you think they’re working hard to put themselves out of business, then I’ve got a bridge to sell you up in Alaska," a reference to the "Bridge to Nowhere" that Palin has taken credit for killing, though she supported the project before changing her mind on it.
But for all the talk of McCain borrowing Obama’s slogan, Obama borrowed from McCain, as well.
Whereas McCain constantly paints Obama as a risk on national security issues, Obama said McCain was a risk, economically, for the nation.
“We know if we go down that path, then the next four years will look exactly like the last eight,” Obama said. “So, when you walk into that voting booth in 50 days, ask yourself: can your family afford to take a chance on an economic policy that offers $200 billion in tax breaks to the biggest corporations, including the oil companies, but not one penny of relief to more than 100 million Americans? … Can you afford to take a chance on a health care plan that would tax your benefits for the first time in American history? Or an education plan that does nothing to help your kids pay for college? Or a retirement plan that will privatize social security and gamble your life savings on the stock market? Because those are his plans, those are his ideas.
“That’s not a risk I’m willing to take,” Obama said.
– Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller