McCain's Economic Challenge

Washington Matters

McCain's Economic Challenge

As he returns this week from his less than stellar tour of Iraq, Israel and Europe, John McCain is about to turn in a big way to economics. It's about time....


McCain could have something of an economic problem, although voters don't seem to have noticed -- at least not yet. The economy is far and away the biggest issue on the mind of most Americans, with three quarters believing we're in a recession that will last, most blaming it on the costs of the Iraq war and most looking to the federal government to do something about it. While Democrats talk big about a bailout for stressed homeowners facing foreclosures, Republicans are ideologically against any quick fixes that they think may do more harm than good in the long run.

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McCain is an advocate of a long-term approach that doesn't offer much to those stuck in dead end jobs and fearful of losing their homes. He pins hopes for the future mostly on tax cuts, which didn't keep the country out of recession, and on trade, which is part of the problem in the view of many blue collar workers. He isn't offering anything to help in the short term. At least not yet. Add to that his now infamous confession that economics isn't his strong suit and you can imagine Democrats having a field day this fall.


For now, though, the polls tell a different story. The same Americans who give Bush and Congress low marks in handling the economy, give both McCain and Hillary Clinton high scores on the economy, with Barack Obama just a few points behind. 


But McCain's strong standing may not last -- not with the recession settling in and not if Republicans are seen as blocking congressional Democrats as they try to help. Recessions shaped four presidential elections in the past half-century -- in 1960, 1976, 1980 and 1992. Each time, the candidate from the party in control of the White House lost. 


The challenge for McCain is the same as it is on most issues in this campaign -- to chart a course that is independent of Bush, conservative enough to keep the Republican base happy and yet activist enough on the economy to impress voters. As University of Maryland Prof. Peter Morici told the Washington Times, McCain "has to find a third way."  And he has to do it soon.