McCain’s Economics Education

During last night’s Republican debate, Tim Russert quoted John McCain back to himself: “I know a lot less about economics than I do about military and foreign policy issues. I still need to be educated.” McCain responded: “I don’t know where you got that quote from, I’m very well versed in economics.”

One of Josh Marshall‘s readers dug up the quote, from an old Wall Street Journal article with the subtitle “John McCain explains his eclectic–and troubling–economic philosophy.”

McCain “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 who does he turn to for advice? His answer is reassuring. His foremost economic guru is former Texas Sen. Phil Gramm (who would almost certainly be Treasury secretary in a McCain administration). He’s also friendly with the godfather of supply-side economics, Arthur Laffer.

Two explanations, not mutually exclusive, come to mind.

First, McCain was engaging in the straight talk with journalists that he’s known for in the first instance and being less-than-straight last night.

Second, the interview made McCain more aware of his ill preparation on the economics front and he’s used the ensuing 26 months to educate himself — by talking with Laffer and Gramm, reading Greenspan’s book, and getting coached up by his advisors.

My guess is that both these are true, actually. While national security policy remains McCain’s chief selling point, much of his campaign has focused on economic issues, notably the need for fiscal restraint in Congress. It’s quite likely that he’s boned up on economics in preparing for the debates, television appearances and whatnot.

Of course, it would have been nice if he’d simply said that rather than denying that there was ever a time when he wasn’t well versed in the subject.

FILED UNDER: 2008 Election, Congress, Economics and Business, , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Dave Schuler says:

    It’s a question I wish were being asked of all senators and representatives rather than just those seeking the presidency.

  2. Boyd says:

    BTW, November 2006 was 14 months ago, not 26. Not that it makes a lot of difference, but I’m anal that way.

  3. James Joyner says:

    November 2006 was 14 months ago, not 26

    True that. But the article was bylined November 2005

  4. Bithead says:

    As one of my co-writers says:
    McCain has great propensity to be wrong, but little ability to admit it.

  5. Hal says:

    Wow. I think the word “fluffer” is quite appropriate for this post. You really are a fanboy , James.

  6. yetanotherjohn says:

    Of course there is a third explanation. The McCain really does know less about the economy than he does about military and foreign policy issues. If you had asked most republicans prior to the debate “Does McCain know more about the economy than he does about military and foreign policy issues?” you would have gotten an overwhelming yes.

    But knowing more about X than Y does not mean you are totally ignorant about Y. As McCain’s answer shows he does have some knowledge on the subject.

    I think at least some of this can be traced to the problems of the media.

    In the current national poll, just 19.6% of those surveyed could say they believe all or most news media reporting. This is down from 27.4% in 2003. Just under one-quarter, 23.9%, in 2007 said they believe little or none of reporting while 55.3% suggested they believe some media news reporting.

    The perception is growing among Americans that the news media attempts to influence public opinion — from 79.3% strongly or somewhat agreeing in 2003 to 87.6% in 2007.

    And, 86.0% agreed (strongly or somewhat) that the news media attempts to influence public policies — up from 76.7% in 2003.

    By a three-to-one margin, Americans see news media journalists and broadcasters (45.4% to 15.7%) as mostly or somewhat liberal over mostly or somewhat conservative.

  7. Bob C says:

    McCain knows as little about economics as the the other stooges on stage with him the other night in Florida. The one who cannot be mentioned posed a question to McCain that was priceless.
    The one who cannot be mentioned knows that to SOLVE a problem you don’t keep doing the things that created the problem.
    Moe, (McCain) Larry (Romney) Curly (Guliani) and Shemp (Huckabee) don’t know this…Although Shemp is learning as he appears transfixed when the one who cannot be mentioned speaks and Shemp is not above stealing his ideas…

    “Economic stimulus package” Sounds like a cheap vibrator and that’s exactly what it will be…right up the butt of the American tax payer!
    Can you say “deficit” ? “False Economy”?

  8. CC Rider says:

    Geez, Joyner, why not be more blatant in these posts about your support for McCain? My advice: Keep on plugging your guy’s stock because nobody’s buying. We’ve been down this road before…

  9. Dennis says:

    McCain also said in December 2007 Boston Globe article: “The issue of economics is not something I’ve understood as well as I should. I’ve got Greenspan’s book.”

    That is far less than 14 months ago, & shows his self-educating is silly at best. He bought a book… He doesn’t even claim to have READ the book.

    This is the problem with McCain, You can’t say anything about him. He lies about his stance if it doesn’t collaborate with the image he is trying to pass off on that day. Then when he’s caught, he tells us that we misunderstand what he was saying. Hmmm, sounds familiar…kind of like some other candidate’s husband.

    This kind of gaff will not pass by the Clinton Machine. As soon as Hillary gets done picking Obama’s bones from her teeth, McCain will be swallowed whole. I do not care what polls say in January, by November, if he is our nominee, he will be hamburger.

  10. SR says:

    On the other hand, McCain can just counter with Hillary’s plan to confiscate profits of American oil companies owned by American citizens. What makes her different from Hugo Chavez?

  11. Hal says:

    Courage, SR. Courage.