Ah...we knew him before he became a Villager. Our buddy and former C&L contributor Steve Benen handicaps how the candidates and their respective economic messages are playing with the American people. Needless to say, Benen rightly points out that McCain's flailing has hurt him in the presidential race.
I heard George Will, who is not exactly a reflexive liberal, talk yesterday how this is something of a presidential test. And there's one candidate who's come across as steady, unflappable, calm, the kind of person you would want in a crisis and it's not John McCain, it's Barack Obama. I thnk to a certain extent we saw that with John McCain's constant changing of messages. It didn't necessarily convey a sense of confidence, or for that matter, a sense of competence.
Beyond being happy to see one of my colleagues on television, I think that Steve makes a point -- though I do wish he wasn't quite so charitable towards McCain -- with which I hope we can see the Obama campaign expound upon and moreover, really hammer home in the upcoming debates: this past week and McCain's response to the economic crisis has shown him to not only have a plan to lead the country out of its economic woes...it shows he doesn't even understand them in the first place. That's not "ready from Day 1", that's not ready at all.
And that's a meme that will resonate with voters.
Transcripts below the fold
MADDOW: Senator McCain has been struggling to find a coherent message in response to this overakk economic crisis. It made for a very bad week for him on the campaign trail. Last week, over the weekend and over the course of the day today on the campaign trail, did it seem to you like he was finding his footing? He was finding his voice?
BENEN: No, not yet. I think he's still trying. To use the Halloween metaphor that you were using earlier, I get the sense that the mask has come off and we've seen a candidate who really doesn't have much of an economic message at all. You know, looking back to Monday, we saw him talking...first thing...first message, right off the bat, was that "the fundamentals of the economy are strong." That was a disaster. The next day, we heard a little bit about a commission, which I also think was a disaster, because it made him seem as if John McCain didn't quite know what was going on and was hoping to have a committee tell him. From there, we heard him...he was against the AIG bailout, then he was for it. He's just been flailing around all over the place with an economic message and it's become something of a disaster for him and we're starting to see some of that reflected in the polls.
MADDOW: On the other side of it, Sen. Obama has certainly had an uptick in the polls of the course of this crisis. When you hear him on the stump talking about this, is he offering the kind of specific remedies that people can understand and relate to or is he scoring most of his political points right now off of attacking John McCain?
BENEN: I think it's probably a little bit of both. I think Robert Reich was right; neither candidate has necessarily presented a lot of details in terms of what they want to do. I think Chris Dodd's proposal today offers something of a path going forward. I think Barney Frank's proposal, he'll be working with Chris Dodd, also offers a bit of a way out. But Barack Obama has a very compelling message in as much as he gets to say ‘I'm not John McCain. I have a policy going forward. I have an economic message I think resonates with people,' and given that, I think he's probably going to try to ride this wave out a little bit further.
MADDOW: I wonder if this isn't in a certain way sort of a temperment test for these candidates, in that we voters and potential voters are seeing how these two men respond to a crisis. How they make politics out of bad news. Is this sort of a "3 am phone call" anticipated so much during the primaries?
BENEN: Absolutely. You know, I heard George Will, who is not exactly a reflexive liberal, talk yesterday how this is something of a presidential test. And there's one candidate who's come across as steady, unflappable, calm, the kind of person you would want in a crisis and it's not John McCain, it's Barack Obama. I thnk to a certain extent we saw that with John McCain's constant changing of messages. It didn't necessarily convey a sense of confidence, or for that matter, a sense of competence. And this week, I think we're hearing more of the same. Hopefully, for John McCain's sake, he gets some kind of message and gets back on track, because right now, he does not have a firm footing. What's more, he goes into this with something of a disadvantage. John McCain has always trailed with an economic message, he's conceded, acknowledged, publicly many times, that economics is not something he understands particularly well. Polls have shown consistently that Democrats are preferred against Republicans on economic messages and so given that dynamic, he has a high hurdle to clear and he hasn't quite gotten up to it yet.