Russert 1, McCain 0

When a debate moderator says you said it, you probably did.

Topics: 2008 Elections, War Room, John McCain, R-Ariz.,

Memo to presidential candidates: When a debate moderator tells you you’ve said something, then looks down at a piece of paper and reads your words back to you, there’s a pretty good chance a) that you’ve said it, and b) that someone will find proof.

At Thursday night’s GOP presidential debate in Florida, Tim Russert turned to Sen. John McCain and said: “You have said repeatedly, quote, ‘I know a lot less about economics than I do about military and foreign policy issues. I still need to be educated.’ Is it a problem for your campaign that the economy is now the most important issue, one that by your own acknowledgment you’re not well versed on?”

McCain’s response: “Actually, I don’t know where you got that quote from.”

Well, Senator, maybe he got it here, where you told the Wall Street Journal: “I’m going to be honest: I know a lot less about economics than I do about military and foreign policy issues. I still need to be educated.”

OK, so that was in 2005. But as Russert noted, McCain has repeatedly confessed a certain degree of economic illiteracy, and he has done it as recently as last month, when he told reporters: “The issue of economics is not something I’ve understood as well as I should. I’ve got Greenspan’s book.”

At last night’s debate — with the economy taking center stage — McCain protested that he actually is “very well versed in economics.”



“I was there at the Reagan revolution. I was there when we enacted the first — or just after we enacted the first tax cuts and the restraints on spending. I was chairman of the Commerce Committee in the United States Senate, which addresses virtually every major economic issue that affects the United States of America. I’m very well versed on economics. And that’s why I have the support of people like Jack Kemp, people like Phil Gramm, people like Warren Rudman, people like Doug Holtz-Eakin, people like Marty Feldstein … And that’s why the Wall Street Journal, in a survey of economists, recently [said] that the majority of economists thought that I could handle the nation’s economy best.”

Ah, yes, the Wall Street Journal again. That’s where McCain attended an editorial board meeting last month and reportedly said that he doesn’t “really understand economics.”

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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