McCain, Obama trade heated jabs over the economy
Posted September 16, 2008 10:59 p.m. EDT
Updated September 17, 2008 1:02 p.m. EDT
GOLDEN, Colo. — John McCain and Barack Obama traded increasingly barbed insults along with prescriptions for the ailing economy Tuesday as financial fears shoved aside lipstick on pigs and every other political issue in a blink with just weeks left in the long presidential campaign.
An ad by Democrat Obama sneered: "How can John McCain fix our economy if he doesn't understand it's broken?"
Getting even more personal, Republican McCain retorted: "Sen. Obama saw an economic crisis, and he's found a political opportunity. My friends, this is not a time for political opportunism; this is a time for leadership."
McCain commented as he and running mate Sarah Palin addressed a rally late Tuesday in Vienna, Ohio.
The verbal dueling showed the importance both candidates put on the issue of the economy as the continuing financial meltdown on Wall Street has driven all other issues out of the news. Both campaigns now believe the candidate who manages to wrest control of the issue and gain voters' confidence could well be the next president.
Earlier in the day, McCain called for a crisis commission, while Obama laughed that off as "the oldest Washington stunt in the book."
"This isn't 9/11," Obama told a noisy crowd of more than 2,000 at the Colorado School of Mines, dismissing the idea of a need for study. "We know how we got into this mess. What we need now is leadership that gets us out. I'll provide it. John McCain won't."
McCain, campaigning in Florida, promised reforms, too, to expose and end the "reckless conduct, corruption and unbridled greed" that he said had caused the financial crisis on Wall Street."
The bewildering turmoil has shaken Americans' confidence, erased hundreds of billions of paper wealth for U.S. stockholders and led McCain and Obama to forsake other controversies and scramble back to the economy as the primary concern of voters.
The presidential campaign had taken an odd turn to side issues - Alaska's "Bridge to Nowhere" and moose-hunting, Obama's crack about lipstick on a pig - after McCain's surprise pick of Alaska Gov. Palin as his running mate. There was a fascination with huge crowds attracted by Palin. But the collapse and merger of some of Wall Street's legendary companies forced a return to reality seven weeks before the election.
What do the voters think?
McCain and Obama now are trusted equally on the economy, with 34 percent of voters naming each as the candidate who would do a better job dealing with what is easily the country's top worry, according to an Associated Press-Yahoo News poll conducted last week. Previously, Obama had had a solid advantage on the issue.
McCain wasn't sticking to economics on Tuesday. His comments grew more personal as the day wore on.
He criticized the Illinois senator for taking donations from executives of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac - the mortgage giants taken over by the government last week - and for putting former Fannie Mae CEO Jim Johnson in charge of his vice presidential search. The Arizona senator also chastised Obama for missing an economic stimulus vote, even though McCain himself missed a vote - and the possibility of breaking a Senate tie - a day earlier on a broader package. Obama voted for that package.
As for Wall Street and the nation's housing woes, Obama called the crisis "the most serious financial situation in generations."
"Since this turmoil began over a year ago," the Illinois senator said, "the housing market has all but collapsed. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac had to be effectively taken over by the government. Three of America's five largest investment banks failed or have been sold off in distress. Yesterday, Wall Street suffered its worst losses since just after 9/11."
He said McCain and President Bush subscribe to the same approach: "support ideological policies that made the crisis more likely, do nothing as the crisis hits and then scramble as the whole thing collapses." Obama said he has supported legislation to stop mortgage transactions that promote fraud, risk or abuse and has urged the administration to bring all parties together to find a solution to the subprime mortgage meltdown.
McCain declared on Monday that "the fundamentals of our economy are strong." Then, after Obama accused him of being out of touch, he conceded the country was in an economic crisis but still said the fundamental strength of the American worker remained strong.
On Tuesday, McCain struck a populist chord against Wall Street greed. He called for a commission to probe the root causes of the country's financial mess - such as the high-level panel that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. And he reiterated that no more taxpayer money should be used to rescue private institutions such as the large insurer AIG.
Hours later, he used a rally before several thousand in Tampa to promise that "if Gov. Palin and I are elected in 49 days we're not going to waste a moment in changing the way Washington does business."
Obama said the nation did not need another commission, like the one proposed by McCain.
"History shows us that there's no substitute for presidential leadership in times of economic crisis," he said. "FDR and Harry Truman didn't put their heads in the sand and hand accountability over to a commission. Bill Clinton didn't put off hard choices. They led and that's what I will do."
Terence Hunt reported with the Obama campaign in Colorado, Johnson reported with the McCain campaign in Ohio and Florida.