Judging a Man by the Company He Keeps

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Ad: John McCain admits he doesn't understand the economy. So who advises him? Carly Fiorina, the fired CEO who got a $42 million golden parachute. Phil Gramm, the ex-senator who pushed through deregulation and called Americans hurt by this economy "whiners." Then there's George Bush, whose disastrous policies McCain wants to continue. They think the economy is fundamentally strong. We know they're fundamentally wrong.

Analysis: The key facts in this Barack Obama counterattack ad are accurate.

Fiorina, who has been one of McCain's closest and most visible advisers, was forced to resign as chief executive of Hewlett-Packard over its sinking fortunes, and she received a severance package estimated at $42 million (popularly, if somewhat pejoratively, called a "golden parachute"). Gramm was another close adviser until he told the Washington Times that America had become "a nation of whiners" complaining about a "mental recession," after which he relinquished his formal campaign role. Gramm was a Senate champion of deregulation, and he sponsored a 1999 law, supported by McCain, that loosened barriers between banks and insurance companies. That measure, some analysts say, contributed to the current Wall Street meltdown.

McCain has been a frequent supporter of President Bush, but whether Bush's economic policies have been "disastrous" is, of course, a matter of debate. The ad slightly distorts McCain's comment on Monday that "the fundamentals of our economy are strong" -- which, while politically tone-deaf, can be seen as saying that the financial underpinnings are solid despite the current troubles. That is not the same as saying the overall economy is strong.

In a duel over advisers, the Obama ad is stronger in aiming at two McCain confidants than the Arizona senator's spot attempting to tie the Democrat to former Fannie Mae chairman Franklin D. Raines. But voters may be more interested in the words and policies of the candidates themselves than in those of the people who surround them.

Video of this ad can be found at www.washingtonpost.com/politics.

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