The airwaves were positively dripping with the "news" that Sen. John McCain could not remember the number of houses and his wife Cindy own. The correct answer is seven. Mrs. McCain is the heiress of a beer distribution company and is known to be fabulously wealthy. Her 2006 tax returns showed that she earned more than $6 million on her investments which would put her net worth in the $75-125 million range. None of which tells us much about John McCain aptitude for the presidency but that did not prevent the Obama campaign from having an ad up on the subject within hours.
McCain has a couple of problems here and his wealth is not one of them. The first problem is that he has successfully spent much of the summer convincing the nation that Obama, who owns only one home, is an elitist. It is true that Obama went to Columbia and Harvard, but why is that a bad thing? There is a reason that doctors display their diplomas on the walls of their offices: Who wants to hire someone who is not well educated to undertake an important task?
The second problem is that McCain said as recently as Wednesday that the fundamentals of the economy are strong and most Americans do not perceive that strength. The brouhaha over the houses is especially difficult for McCain because of the role of the housing market and the subprime mortgage crisis in bringing about the more general economic downturn.
The third problem for McCain, and the most important in this regard, is that he has backed away from his earlier commitment to economic policies that were more favorable to the middle class and embraced George Bush-style social Darwinism. More tax breaks for the wealthy. No real effort to achieve affordable health care. Unlike FDR and JFK, two fabulously rich patricians, today’s GOP has no sense of noblesse oblige when it comes to the tax code. Middle class and poor folk loved FDR and did not begrudge them his riches because he identified with their challenges and helped them get jobs. Conversely, McCain seems entirely out of touch with the struggles of most Americans.
The big news yesterday, and the more important news for the next president, did not come from the real estate records in La Jolla but from Iraq. Agreement has been reached between the Iraqi and U.S. governments on a troop withdrawal by 2011. This is life-threatening to the McCain campaign. Their different plans for Iraq were one of the principal differences between the two presidential candidates, and McCain seemed more confident in defending his side of that quarrel than Obama did his. With that debate now moot, the major difference between the two is their approach to the economy and the man with seven houses seems ill-suited to win that debate.
Michael Sean Winters