Who doesn't understand the economy?

As Obama sets forth his economic plan, McCain takes pains to remind Americans of his own confession of ignorance.

Published June 9, 2008 5:32PM (EDT)

The McCain campaign appears determined to keep us wondering what in the bejesus it could possibly be thinking. Fresh on the heels of a speech that even Fox News commentator William Kristol, as reliable a Republican talking points propagandist as can be found in this fair land, had to admit was a disaster, the campaign has now released a statement Monday morning accusing Barack Obama of not understanding the American economy.

That's either a whole lot of chutzpah or a whole lot of stupidity. Is the campaign purposefully trying to remind Americans that McCain is the presidential candidate on record as declaring that "the issue of economics is not something I have understood as well as I should"? Back in January, when McCain made that concession, How the World Works was prepared to be sympathetic. Economics is hard, and nobody understands it very well. But this attempt to turn his own weakness into an attack is a jujitsu move that just ends up with the Republican flat on his face.

Here's the opening salvo from the McCain camp, delivered by campaign aide Tucker Bounds:

While hardworking families are hurting and employers are vulnerable, Barack Obama has promised higher income taxes, Social Security taxes, capital gains taxes, dividend taxes, and tax hikes on job creating businesses. In fact, during just three years in the U.S. Senate, Barack Obama has already voted 94 times for higher taxes. Barack Obama doesn't understand the American economy and that's change we just can't afford.

And here's an excerpt from a speech on economic issues delivered by Obama in Raleigh, N.C., on Monday morning.

We have now lost jobs for five straight months -- more than 320,000 since the beginning of this year. Last month we saw the biggest rise in the unemployment rate in more than twenty years. The percentage of homes in foreclosure and late mortgage payments is the highest since the Great Depression. The price of oil has never been higher and set a record on Friday for the largest one-day spike in history. The costs of health care and college tuition and even food have all hit record levels, while family incomes have fallen and the wages of our workers have stayed the same.

I'll leave it to readers to decide who better "understands" the current state of the economy.

Obama then laid out a series of short-term and long-term proposals for what he plans to do about the economy. I'll be looking at them in more depth as he elaborates over the next two weeks. The full text of the speech is here.

But in the meantime, how should we evaluate the McCain campaign's obvious eagerness to bash Obama on taxes? It's tried-and-true Republican dogma, and it has surely worked well in the past, but the strategy seems bizarrely out of touch right now. Carrying the mantle of fiscal responsibility is not something that the Republicans can claim in 2008, at least not with straight faces. And if the electorate demonstrated anything during the 2006 election -- and if the myriad woes that congressional Republicans are facing right now offer any additional hint -- Americans aren't all that interested in the Republican platform agenda of yesteryear.

Update: As reported by Talking Points Memo, Obama campaign economic advisor Austan Goolsbee addressed this very question during a conference call with reporters on Monday.

"The American people are a bit smarter than that," Goolsbee replied, somewhat optimistically. "If anyone just looks at what Obama is proposing, that's simply not true." Goolsbee pointed out that Obama is proposing tax relief for 95 percent of American working families while McCain is proposing over $6 billion in tax cuts that will primarily benefit the wealthy.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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2008 Elections Barack Obama Globalization How The World Works John Mccain R-ariz. Taxes