A Strange Contrast

Kevin Drum brings up a rather revealing set of dueling interview answers by Barack Obama and John McCain for Fortune magazine.  I agree with Kevin that the differences couldn’t be more stark, and that on the surface it is yet another example of John McCain looking like a simpleton compared to Obama regarding the economy.

But I think Drum, at best, glances over what I think is an important possibility here.

You can check out the specific quotes at Political Animal linked above, but for the shorter story, when both presidential candidates were asked what they viewed was the gravest threat to our economy, Obama posited that said threat would have to be energy concerns, McCain?  Islamic terrorism.

Given that we know that McCain doesn’t measure up strongly regarding the economy, it’s all too easy to look at this as yet example of McCain looking dumb regarding this nation’s fiscal policy.

But the question that must be asked is; how does McCain stand to benefit from looking smart on the economy?

The fact of the matter is, McCain’s going to do what Republicans always do; he’s going to promise lower taxes over and over again, and it might or it might not work.  Further, in contemporary times, Democrats tend to poll better than Republicans when it comes to the economy, and thus we see what is a modern classical conundrum take place.

People trust Democrats more to act as good stewards for the economy than Republicans, but people are suckers for a good low taxes sell.

The fact of the matter is, McCain doesn’t really stand to benefit to look like a genius on the economy; the probability that he will poll better than Obama regardless of how smart he sounds are minimal, and aren’t likely to increase his chances of winning beyond the tried and true lower taxes spiel.

On the other hand, I find it interesting as to exactly where McCain went with the grave threat question; Islamic terrorism.  This too, is classic Republican style politics–politics that have worked in the past.  While there’s very little that McCain can do to win over a lot of voters on the economy, he still tends to outpoll Obama on several areas regarding foreign policy.

While this isn’t the worst fear based politics out there, it is a pretty clear example of McCain trying to steer the presidential debate back into what he perceives as his wheel house.  Why talk about the economy when you can turn the economy into a debate about terrorism?

On one hand, McCain risks turning into the next Rudy Giuliani; a self parody that turns his fixation on a single issue into a running joke.  If he avoids this, on the other hand, he now pushes the ball further into Obama’s court to do what he can to not appear “soft on terrorism”.

The onus falls upon Obama to not get shoved around by McCain on the topic of terrorism, and thus far he hasn’t.  Indeed, if Obama continues to stand up on foreign policy and specifically anti-terrorism, providing viable alternatives, McCain’s attempts to isolate the debate onto terrorism may backfire.


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  1. Correcting Black | Comments from Left Field - [...] finally got around to reading the actual Fortune article that provided a stark contrast that I remarked on yesterday. …

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