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McCain Doesn't Speak for McCain

July 27, 2008

In the wake of Phil Gramm's disastrous "whiners" remarks three weeks ago, John McCain claimed his close friend and key economic adviser "does not speak for me - I speak for me." Sadly for Mr. Straight Talk, Gramm that very day was in New York meeting with the Wall Street Journal editorial board to explain McCain's economic policies. Now, as it turns out, on issues from the economy and foreign policy to a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, John McCain doesn't speak for John McCain.
That was the clear message from Douglas-Holtz Eakin, the Republican nominee's chief economic adviser. After a study this week from the Tax Policy Center (TPC) showed McCain's public promises would add an additional $2.8 trillion to the sea of red ink already entailed by what his campaign has laid out privately, Holtz-Eakin in essence suggested that what John McCain says simply can't believed. As Slate noted:

Douglas Holtz-Eakin, McCain's chief economic adviser, says the numbers he provided to the TPC aren't secret - they're the same ones he provides to anyone who asks. He also disputes the way the study takes suggestions McCain has made on the stump out of context. "This is parsing words out of campaign appearances to an unreasonable degree," Holtz-Eakin said. "He has certainly I'm sure said things in town halls" that don't jibe perfectly with his written plan. But that doesn't mean it's official.

This isn't the first time that Holtz-Eakin has advised that John McCain's words should be taken with a very large grain of salt. On multiple occasions dating back to 2005, for example, McCain admitted his own feeble grasp of economics. In December 2007, McCain acknowledged, "The issue of economics is not something I've understood as well as I should." Two years earlier, he said, "I still need to be educated.
As it turns out, Holtz-Eakin assured voters in March, McCain's dismal understanding of the dismal science is just another example of the famous McCain humor at work:

"He has this wonderful self-deprecating sense of humor and out of his months comes things sometimes like 'yeah, I'm not that good on the economy' in an effort to make a small joke."

McCain's word similarly "cannot be trusted" when it comes to foreign policy. Last November, McCain penned an article in Foreign Affairs in which he announced his intent to expel Russia from the G8. In a March 26th speech, he made his plan crystal clear:

"We should start by ensuring that the G-8, the group of eight highly industrialized states, becomes again a club of leading market democracies: it should include Brazil and India but exclude Russia."

But facing almost universal condemnation from foreign policy analysts who characterized booting Russia from the G8 as logistically impossible and just plain "dumb," the McCain campaign quickly disowned it. On June 25th, Reuters reported that an anonymous McCain adviser claimed the policy towards Russia was no longer operative:

He also dismissed McCain's comment last October on Russia and the G-8 as "a holdover from an earlier period," adding: "It doesn't reflect where he is right now."

Yet one month later, John McCain was back on the trail, calling once again for Moscow to get the heave-ho. Appearing today on ABC This Week with George Stephanopolous, McCain insisted it was back on:

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me ask you about your position to exclude Russia from the G-8. How are you going to get that done? Every other G-8 nation is against it.
MCCAIN: Well, you have to take positions whether other nations agree or not, because you have to do what's best for America...

Sometimes it is John McCain himself who makes clear that John McCain doesn't speak for John McCain. On Meet the Press in January with the late Tim Russert, it was McCain who insisted "I don't know where you got that quote from" when confronted with his 2005 statement about his ignorance of economics. And now, McCain has again said that he didn't say something he said.
This morning, John McCain denied he used the word "timetable" in reference to withdrawing American troops from Iraq. After having previously supported a 100 year U.S. presence in Iraq, McCain in May shortened that to five years. On Friday, facing Prime Minister al-Maliki's endorsement of Barack Obama's proposed 16 month time frame for a U.S. drawdown, McCain acknowledged, "I think it's a pretty good timetable." But just two days later, McCain insisted to George Stephanopolous that those words never crossed his lips:

STEPHANOPOULOS: You shouldn't have used the word timetable.
MCCAIN: I didn't use the word timetable. That I did - if I did...
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, it's a pretty good timetable.
MCCAIN: Oh, well, look. Anything is a good timetable that is dictated by conditions on the ground. Anything is good.

One month ago, John McCain blasted his opponent, claiming, "You know, this election is about trust, and trusting people's word, and unfortunately apparently on several items, Senator Obama's word cannot be trusted." As it turns out, John McCain's own campaign staff doesn't trust what John McCain says. Apparently, neither does he.


About

Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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