Early in tonight’s debate, John McCain denied having said that economic issues are his weak point (I’ll check the precise wording of his denial when I see the transcript tomorrow). He did so in response to a question by Russert (I think) in which that statement was attributed to McCain. Russert did not provide the sourcing of the statement, but I doubt he made it up.
Moreover, when I was on his bus, The Straight Talk Express, last November, I heard McCain say that economic issues are not his strength. A reporter asked McCain about a possible running mate. McCain said that his number one criterion is whether a potential VP would be a good president. He then added that it would also be good to have someone who is strong in areas that are not his strength. McCain went on to say that he wasn’t that strong on economics. I don’t recall the exact quote, but I do remember McCain prefacing it by saying: “I probably shouldn’t admit this. . .” He might not have, if he had known what a big issue the economy was about to become.
This isn’t a big deal to me. A President McCain would, like all presidents, make economic decisions based on the advice of top economic thinkers (and hopefully not Warren Rudman, to whom he referred), not based on personal expertise. Most of these advisers would probably be conservatives. For example, he’s a big admirer of Phil Gramm, whom he mentioned on the bus in November. Nor is McCain charged with remembering every word that’s come out of his mouth. He likely knows he’s downplayed his economic expertise but probably doesn’t recall exactly how he formulated this.
Still, I know that McCain has made at least one statement about his economic expertise the import of which is what Russert described.
JOHN adds: I believe McCain has said a couple of times that he doesn’t know as much about economics as he should, or not as much as he knows about national security, or words to that effect. I agree that this is not necessarily a big deal. A President doesn’t have to be an expert on economics any more than he needs to be an expert on military strategy. On the other hand, a deep knowledge of the economy, such as Mitt Romney has, is certainly an advantage in that realm, just as McCain’s life-long engagement with military issues is an advantage in that sphere.
PAUL adds: McCain 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.
That was in November 2005, but he said basically the same thing in November 2007 when I was with him on his bus. And in December 2007, Sasha Issenberg, who was on the bus with us in November, quoted McCain as saying, “‘The issue of economics is not something I’ve understood as well as I should; I’ve got Greenspan’s book.”
I give McCain credit for not professing extensive knowledge of economics. His sense of his limitations in this area helps counter my fear that McCain sometimes makes snap judgments in areas where he’s not an expert. However, McCain erred last night when he implied that he never said “I know a lot less about economics than I do about military or foreign policy issues.”