John McCain is now seeing the disadvantage of having surged into the lead in this race — because as the leader, his reactions to the various forms of meltdown and bailout going on this week are clearly the dominant story, not Barack Obama’s. And this is one matter in which a political candidate does not want to be the focal point, because nobody quite knows what to do or what the consequences of action or inaction are. Given the unthinkable shift that has just gone on in relation to the insurance giant AIG — with the federal government and the Fed absolutely refusing even to consider the possibility of helping out on Saturday to an 80 percent takeover for $75 billion on Tuesday — it’s fair to say that the most knowledgeable, skilled, and educated people in the world on these matters are doing something that has never been done before. They’re practicing Improvisatory Macroeconomics. And if there’s one thing macroeconomics is not supposed to partake of, it’s improvisation.
McCain and Obama are falling back on their points of comfort. McCain is talking about greed and lack of accountability — all of which are long-standing talking points of his, though they are usually applied to Washington and not to Wall Street. He is also attacking Obama’s tax-increase plan, which is sound, but a little off to the side when the issue is the shakeout in the markets. Obama is talking about how it’s all George Bush’s fault and that John McCain would be more of the same, which is a perfectly fine line of attack if you’re a Democrat, but since it is the entirety of Obama’s case against McCain, has a little less oomph in this case than it might otherwise.
They need more, both of them. And in this case, McCain needs more. Which is to say, he needs more economic advice than he’s getting from Douglas Holtz-Eakin, his chief econ hand, who enmeshed his candidate today in an entirely unnecessary mini-joke-controversy over his role in the popularity of the Blackberry.