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John McCain, Man of the People

First, he told us that you're not rich until you're making $5 million. Now, we have this from Politico:

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said in an interview Wednesday that he was uncertain how many houses he and his wife, Cindy, own. "I think I'll have my staff get to you," McCain told Politico in Las Cruces, N.M. "It's condominiums where I'll have them get to you." The correct answer is at least four, located in Arizona, California and Virginia, according to his staff. Newsweek estimated this summer that the couple owns at least seven properties.

Alex Koppelman's analysis is just right:

Obviously, there is but one logical conclusion we can draw from this: Barack Obama is an out-of-touch elitist.

UPDATE: Giving a new meaning to "rapid response," Obama puts up the obvious ad: (HT TPM)[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vpmFd25tRqo[/youtube]UPDATE II: Here's the DNC's contribution (HT Salon):

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Good to see that the savior of America is sticking to his new kind of politics pledge.

I'm sure that Obama will never succeed in closing the hypocrisy gap with McCain. I guess you would consider it another weakness on his part.

McCain has never claimed to be a populaist "Man of the people" ... he is a former fighter jock who married a wealthy heiress--thus, while he is in an elite group he cannot be described as an elitist per se, which the dictionary definition notes invovles both snobbery and a "consciousness of being or belong to an elite: ... but McCain does not dwell on his success, he does not lord it over other people or look down on them ... indeed, not knowing exactly how many houses he owns is a demonstration of how little that sort of status means to him .. thus, he is a far more approachable man, a man that many men would aspire to be and many women can admire ... On the other hand, Obama IS an out-of-touch elitist who speaks down to people as if he were still a pedantic law professor delivering a lecture to a bunch of ignorant freshmen .. he describes the religious views and support of firearms of blue collar workers in negative terms ... he delivers long, drawn-out, analysis that minutely examines every possible side of certain issues (such as when life begins) rather than delivering the straightforward answer that most people would (regardless of which position they hold) ... he talks in terms of McCain offering tax breaks to those earning "2 point 5 to 2 point 8 million dollars" rather than the more colloquial "those earning more than two and a half million dollars," which again is how someone who is NOT an out-of-touch elitist would probably word it ... Obama changes his mind on issues such as accepting public campaign funding and then tries to explain why this change is actually BETTER for the concept of publicly fianncing campaigns than if he had actually kept his word ... he chooses not to wear a flag lapel pin and then wants us to belive that this gesture is actually MORE patriotic than if he had simply worn it or simply said he had forgotten to wear it ...

Finally, he's fighting back. All that was missing from the ad is a note that McCain thinks you are only rich if you earn more than 5 million.

Robert and Sean -- comical efforts. You can try to rationalize all you want, but you both know this little gaffe has legs.

Just want to add I love mcCain's "Town Hall" -in Las cruces yesterday, 500 by invitation only.Had to be lots of sharp questions (and daulation.)Not my idea of a town hall.

Eduardo,You're right that it might hurt McCain ... but I'm right in my description of how the two men differ. It's why McCain has closed the gap in so many polls and even taken the lead in others.If McCain's people are smart--and they have been so far--this will blow over. People know McCain and they like him. They respect him as a potential leader of the nation, even when they disagree with him on specific issues. They still don't know exactly who Obama is or what to make of him. If THAT does not change, Obama cannot win.

A good point from Mark Hemingway at NRO:But again, why does Obama want to make an issue of McCain's houses? He's just opening himself up. McCain (or Cindy at least) paid for his houses Obama bought his with help from someone who was just found guilty of six counts of wire fraud, six counts of mail fraud, two counts of corrupt solicitation, and two counts of money laundering. Yup.

You betcha a lot of people care. Some say Bill Clinton won his first term in office because he knew what a half gallon of milk cost while George Bush looked at his watch in exasperation. It's the kind of thing idiots who don't want to think about issues can latch on to to make an uninformed choice.Deep background: While I don't care how many homes McCain has, I was inundated with e-mails from my fundie Republican in-laws during the last election noting that the taxpayers would have to provide protection for an ex-President John Kerry's umpteen mansions. (These are the same in-laws now sending me e-mails that Obama is a "Moslem.")I replied to said in-laws that all ex-presidents were afforded protection for life, and that if they didn't like that, they should take it up with Congress, which designated the protection many eons ago. In other stupid political news, Rush has been going haywire saying that if McCain chooses a pro-choice candidate it's going to set back the conservative cause and ruin the GOP. He was running around saying almost the exact same thing would happen if McCain were nominated.

Jean unintenionally raises another point - were you against Kerry in '04 because of his wealth- also gained from marrying an heiress - Eduardo?Just wondering.

I agree with Robert Reid - elitism is not a function of either income or wealth - more a state of mind and culture. Take the examples of Warren Buffet and George Soros - both share almost identical political views (admittedly Soros is further to the left but I think most would agree they are in the same ballpark politically) but I don't think anyone would call Buffet, who has lived in the same modest house in Omaha, NE for the last 40 years, elitist, despite being worth several tens of billions of dollars more than Soros (who as we all know is a multi-billionaire); whereas (and I realize not everyone here will agree) Soros would be considered by many non-partisan observers as quite elitist. I would also find it hard to believe that for voters to whom a candidate's "elisism" matters, that they would find Senator McCain "more" elitist than Senator Obama. The reality is Senator Obama is an urbane, Harvard-educated, multi-millionaire and McCain a multi-generational military brat and salty fly-boy who married a wealthy woman. Some voters prefer their president to be the former, some the later, but to think Senator Obama would not be considered an elitist by those who really care would be inaccurate, in my opinion. I understand most here want him to get as many votes as he can and feel very passionate about him personally, etc., but he is what he is - being elitist is not necessarily a good thing nor a bad thing - some want that in a leader, others don't. I think if he starts to try to be something he's not however, he runs the risk of donning a helment and jumping into a tank or "hunting" waterfowl in the OH wetlands wearing thousands of dollars of brand new Orvis hunting camo and looking like a total phony - which nobody likes.

Don't be obtuse, Mark. Of course not. Nor am I against McCain for being a gold-digger. I'm against him for a number of other reasons and, therefore, favor Obama using whatever (true) arguments are at his disposal in order to win. There must be votes in painting someone as an out-of-touch elitist, since the McCain folks have been doing it to Obama for some time and even today continue to mock Obama as an elitist in the face of their boy's misstep. Turn-about is clearly fair play.

Does, "First, he told us that youre not rich until youre making $5 million" count as a true argument? Or do true arguments have to be honest also?

Are you suggesting that McCain did not say that, Tom?Here's the YouTube clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Q2sAFH7zj0

I am suggesting that the first sentence of your post is dishonest, as the YouTube clip you link to proves.

Did he say it or not, Tom?

Here's how the reporters at Politico put it: "McCains comments came four days after he initially told Pastor Rick Warren during a faith forum on Sunday his threshold for considering someone rich is $5 million a careless comment he quickly corrected." Are they dishonest too, Tom?

I thought the question of the number of houses was very revealing. It shows that McCain didn't want to throw a number out there and be called out on it later. He wanted to be sure an accurate number was given to the press. What I do find shocking is that the Obama campaign would want to touch the housing issue with a ten foot pole. Obama, not McCain, bought his property with the help of a man convicted of money laundering, wire fraud, and mail fraud.

Wow. This Obama attack must have really hit a nerve. It's brought out the concern trolls in droves.

This is hilarious. McCain wasn't unable to tell Politico how many homes he owns--he just wanted to make sure he didn't mislead the public. I wish I'd thought of that. And sent it to SNL.

Thomas Frank said it best here: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120873309012529689.html?mod=mostpop"Consider, for example, the one fateful charge that the punditry and the other candidates have fastened upon Mr. Obama "elitism." No one means by this term that Mr. Obama is a wealthy person (he wasn't until last year), or even that he is an ally of the wealthy (although he might be that). What they mean is that he has committed a crime of attitude, and revealed his disdain for the common folk......."It is by this familiar maneuver that the people who have designed and supported the policies that have brought the class divide back to America the people who have actually, really transformed our society from an egalitarian into an elitist one perfume themselves with the essence of honest toil, like a cologne distilled from the sweat of laid-off workers. Likewise do their retainers in the wider world the conservative politicians and the pundits who lovingly curate all this phony authenticity become jes' folks, the most populist fellows of them all."But suppose we read on, and we find the news item about the hedge fund managers who made $2 billion and $3 billion last year, or the story about the vaporizing of our home equity. Suppose we become a little . . . bitter about this. What do our pundits and politicians tell us then?"That there is no place for such sentiment in the Party of the People. That 'bitterness' is an ugly and inadmissible emotion. That 'divisiveness' is a thing to be shunned at all costs."Robert, do you really think saying "two point five to two point eight million" instead of two and a half million is a more serious symptom of elitism than favoring tax breaks for those who make two and a half million? If it is, then elitism is, or should be, of no political importance. Class is really the issue here, no matter what its accent or pedigree.

I liked it better when we were arguing about the Democratic Party platform plank. At least it was a real issue.Homework assignment for concern trolls on both sides; no essays accepted until everyone cools off for 24 hours:Issue #1 for Democrats: How many homes does McCain own? Does his failure to know the exact number make him a liar? A prevaricator? An elitist? Does it indicate a weak memory? Are the homes part of an investment portfolio that he could not recall off the cuff? Explain the significance of McCain's many homes and explain how his answer to the reporter will affect his performance as president. Support your answer with careful references to credible reports and verifiable facts.Issue #2 for Republicans: Before he was charged or convicted with a crime, a crooked businessman provided assistance to the Obamas in purchasing a home. Does this mean Obama approves of white-collar crime? Does it mean Obama doesn't care how he gets his money? Does it mean that he was unwittingly helped by someone whose misdeeds were unknown to him? Decide which scenario is most likely based on credible and verifiable information and explain how this will affect his performance as president. Cite your sources.

Eduardo,No, McCain did not tell us that youre not rich until youre making $5 million. He gave an outrageous answer to what he suggested was an irrelevant question. And then he laughed.He can be criticized for dodging the question, or for not wanting to tax the rich. But even Obama, as he was making political hay out of it, allowed that "maybe he was joking."I really don't care about Obama's latest attack. Politicians do what politicians do.I am, though, appalled enough to comment at your encouragement of the ongoing cheapening of discourse "using whatever (true) arguments are at his disposal in order to win." Cynical pandering for votes is immoral, as is formal cooperation with it.

Matthew Boudway: You do realize that based on the donor information available to date, the "hedge fund managers who made $2 billion and $3 billion last year" are supporting Senator Obama by a wide margin, correct?From Matt Taibbis piece in this months Rolling Stone (also referred to in Eric Bugyis's post on dotCommonweal dated 19 August 2008):"Obama is flat-out kicking McCain's ass when it comes to Wall Street contributions, raking in nearly $9 million from securities and investment executives, compared to $6.2 million for McCain. Obama has received more contributions from Goldman Sachs than from any other employer more than $627,000 at this writing not to mention $398,021 from JP Morgan Chase, $353,922 from Lehman Brothers and $291,388 from Morgan Stanley. Even among hedge-fund executives, who have an unequivocal interest in electing McCain, Obama is whipping the Republican, collecting $500,000 more than McCain."

MAT,I take your point. What can I say except that I am glad if they are supporting a candidate who will tax them more? Better make that "I am glad they are supporting him if he's going to tax them more -- much more." Much depends on that "if." As Frank writes in the passage I already quoted, "No one means by this term that Mr. Obama is a wealthy person (he wasnt until last year), or even that he is an ally of the wealthy (although he might be that)." He might indeed, and more's the pity, but who can doubt that McCain is an ally of the wealthy. The phenomenon you mention is, I think, mainly about the universal desire to bet on a winner.

"This is hilarious. McCain wasnt unable to tell Politico how many homes he ownshe just wanted to make sure he didnt mislead the public. I wish Id thought of that. And sent it to SNL."I'm sorry. But as the son of someone who makes a substantial portion of her living by investing in condos, I didn't find his answer to the question to be as controversial as you want it to be. I imagine McCain has an accountant who manages properties that his wife owns. Still, you could send the line in to SNL and it would be about as funny and relevant as the show has been in the past decade.

I don't know why you're apologizing. I don't take McCain's inability to tell a reporter how many homes he owns (and they're married, for Pete's sake, can we dispense with the dicing?) to be controversial. I simply find it amusing in light of his campaign's efforts to pin Obama with the "elite" tag. Besides, it's not as though they're not using the homes. Or at least the beach-front ones.

Cindy McCain discussed the timing of the second condo purchase in a June interview with Vogue magazine (not online) that's newly relevant in light of the explosive controversy over John McCain's inability to recall how many homes the McCains own.And in another fun fact that could pour fuel on this controversy, Cindy told her interviewer that the reason they needed a second beach condo in the Coronado building was that the first was too crowded because her kids were staying there and as a result she "couldn't get in the place."

I do know how difficult it can be to keep track of one's homes when they number seven.

"I do know how difficult it can be to keep track of ones homes when they number seven."It's because there was a previous discrepancy about the number of homes that his family owns. From the McCain camp: "He referred the questioners to his staff because this is a question that has been debated at the staff level with some reporters who, based on an inaccurate reading of Senate disclosure forms, have reported more homes than the McCains actually own, and some press reports that have indicated fewer homes than they actually own. So, by trying to avoid a debate about the holdings of the Hensley Family Trust, he simply attempted to move on to the next question."http://corner.nationalreview.com/post/?q=OTBmNzA5ZTc2ZTdlOGRmOWY5MmFmYmF..., I still believe this is a silly fight to pick since McCain will obviously hit back by bringing up Rezko.

Matthew Boudway: I think you are partly right that part of it is about the desire to back a winner - I actually personally think it's more of a cultural thing. These hedge fund execs and Wall Street-ers are not dissimilar to Hollywood types - people who accumulated vast wealth at a very young age and whose worldviews did not mature as someone who accumulated their wealth later in life via payroll income. I am not making a value judgement about that and do not mean to disparage them, I just mean to say that a 50-year old engineer for GE who makes $250k per year for 20 years and a 30-year old hedge fund analyst who made $2 million last year may have similar bank account balances, but their worldviews will be very different.I should hasten to add that (1) I happen to work at a hedge fund - although I can assure you I did not make $2 billion last year, and (2) Mr. Bugyis is incorrect to say "hedge-fund executives" have an "unequivocal interest in electing McCain". The fact that the $2 billion is almost assuredly not payroll income and not subject to income tax aside (it is likely treated as carried interest and taxed as capital gains; in fairness to Senator Obama, he has said he wants to change this in the Code to have it taxed as income), Senator Obama's willingness to wield the government pocketbook would in fact be a very good thing for hedge funds (whether that is a good thing for the American people, I leave it to others to decide). By way of example, some of our competitor hedge funds purchase, at a significant discount, defaulted home mortgage debt (not dissimilar to Fortress Investments, btw, where John Edwards was employed). They have no intention of foreclosing on anyone - they are taking Senator Obama at his word that when elected he will do everything in his power to "fix" this housing crisis. What Senator Obama will do (or really expand on what President Bush and the current Congress have already done) is use government funds, via Fannie and Freddie, to purchase these home mortgages back from these hedge funds at par. E.G. I buy a $300k home mortgage from XYZ bank where the homeowner is no longer making payments for $200k, since federal banking regulations force the bank to get the loan off its books at any cost. Fannie and Freddie then assist the homeowner by buying that mortgage from me in a few months for $300k. The taxpayers of the U.S. just made me $100k in days (or weeks or months), but you get the point.

Ah, I got you Adeodatus. It's the fault of those reporters.

I'm sorry that you cannot concede any points whatever. But for what it's worth, I did a cursory search of recent blogs mentioning the number of houses John McCain owns, limiting my search to entries made prior to today's news. According to Matthew Yglesias, McCain owns eleven houses. Andy Stern, president of SEIU, insists that the number is ten as does Progressive Accountability.

MAT,Yes, I get the point, and it's a good one. But then, adequate regulation of the mortgage industry and of the financial institutions that bought and repackaged bad mortgages would have prevented all this from happening in the first place; and it is an axiom of Republican ideology that government regulation is a bad thing, that the market will always sort itself out as long as we don't get it in its way. I don't doubt that hedge-fund managers have found a way to profit from the federal government's effort to save homeowners -- and the economy -- from an epidemic of foreclosures. Of course, this doesn't tell us much about the wisdom of that effort. What is the alternative? As for your point about Obama's appeal to young billionaires attracted to glamor and fashionabe causes, who can doubt it? But it is at least conceivable that they could be right for the wrong reasons. It is also conceivable that some of them have thought about those who will not make as much in a lifetime of work as they make in a few months.

I can't believe this many people are wasting brain cells on such a silly issue. It happens on the right too, of course; I was in disbelief over how many bloggers were speculating about Obama's birth certificate.

If you read the exchange, it is clear that the implied subject is investment properties. It's not surprisin that McCain is unsure. Why should he be sure? Wouldn't a precise number indicate that he was unduly concerned with numbers? I do, however, find the level of discourse from Obama supporters on this blog to be distressingly anti-intellectual and unworthy of Commonweal. Those who disagree - and give evidence to support their views - are called "trolls." That's pretty hard to grasp.

Matthew: On the housing crisis, I fear we stray too far from the elitism topic on hand, but you're right - there are not many good alternatives, but I think history will show either a too lax monetary policy (Greenspan kept rates too low for too long, as his critics would argue) or a global savings glut (as Greenspan himself would likely say) played much more a role than lack of regulation. Even many (admittedly, not all) critics would not argue the lack of regulation per se, but lack of enforcement of what is on the books by the Fed, such as the Home Ownership and Equity Protection Act. And I do not mean to disparage the motives of the ultra-wealthy who support Obama - they may indeed have non-self-serving motives for supporting Senator Obama. Which kind of brings us back to the perception (in my opinion) of Obama as elitist and not McCain, while the later is clearly more wealthy. I think Obama supporters are too defensive about it - he styles himself an intellectual who likes to hob-nob with the wealthy - whether they are hedge fund managers or movie stars or whatever. So what? I guess he could pretend to be something he's not to try to get some votes, but as John Kerry and Michael Dukakis, to name a few, can tell you, it will come off as phony and nobody likes a phony. Look as Ted Kennedy - he's an elitist who doesn't apologize for it, gets plenty of ethnic and blue-collar votes, and couldn't get voted out of office if he tried.

Tom - So I assume you've been equally critical of McCain for lowering the level of discourse with his absurd "celebrity" ads and his refusal to condemn the patent lies in Obamanation? At least I am endorsing only "true" arguments. I'm all for high-minded deliberation, but it doesn't really work when only one side practices it. Until I see some interest on the right in raising the level of discourse, I think we on the left have to play to win. Otherwise, we're just tools.Also, even if McCain was joking, which is hardly clear from the video (it is as plausible to me that the Politico is right and he meant what he said but immediately realized his error when the good pastor laughed in his face), the first line of this post is hardly dishonest.Finally, for those who seem to be confused about the meaning of "concern troll" and its supposed anti-intellectualism, it does not refer to anyone with whom one disagrees. It only refers to those feigning concern for the other side (even if the feigning is transparent or tongue-in-cheek). In this case, it refers to those who are attempting to sow worries about the impact of this housing issue on Obama because of the Rezko faux-scandal. Here's the wikipedia entry on "concern trolls": http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concern_troll#Concern_troll

Eduardo:I really dont care about McCain's attacks. Politicians do what politicians do.If, though, I came across a Catholic praising the McCain campaign for cynically pandering for votes and justifying himself with "play to win" and "they started it" arguments, then yes, I would be appalled.And if he were so dishonest as to represent something Obama said jokingly as sincerely meant, I expect I would call him on it.

Grant - at 5.17pmThey're married? Has the first, discarded and divorced Mrs McCain died recently? Does adultery not matter any more?

Eduardo,Never said it wasn't a gaffe, although I don't think it will be a big one. Point was that Obama claims he's going to be "different" in his campaign. Here is a guy who makes hay off of his support for public financing of campaings, except when it doesn't give him an advantage - then not so much. He repeatedly tells us race doesn't matter and then consistently implies that people oppose him because of his.Don't get me wrong, politics ain't patty cake, and I can't stand all the hand wringing about "negative" campaigning. It's a crock. My problem is that Obama is an A-1 hypocrite on the clean campaing no personal attack front. How many times is he going to have to do the "John must be confused" bit before people start to see it as mean spirited agism? It's not just mean spirited, it's cowardly. If he thinks the man's too old, say so. But that's his MO. Don't out and out say anything, just imply that your oppostion is racist or that your opponent is a doddering old man, and then deny that's what you intended.I also think, as some have pointed out here, that this can backfire. Looking at their first meeting, I know who sounded "out of touch." I think tagging McCain as elitist is a losing proposition. We'll see.

Sister Mary Wood,McCain said, "My greatest moral failing, and I am a very imperfect person, is the failure of my first marriage." I thought it was interesting that the audience tittered when he said "imperfect person." But most interesting is that McCain saying "the failure of my first marriage" is kind of like saying "mistakes were made." There's no mention of his extramarital affairs or even his divorce and remarriage.

As far as the Obama/McCain housing crisis, we all need to grow up a little. With probably the singular exception of Abraham Lincolnwho failed at nearly everything he did before becoming president and saving the nationEVERYONE who becomes a major partys nominee for president is going to be a wealthy person, having been a senator, governor, held other major government office, been a successful general or businessman, etc. NONE of them is going to live a lifestyle even remotely like what most of us live. Thats why I focused on Obamas speaking style, his convoluted explanations for his actions, his arrogance toward the middle class, etc., when describing him as an elitist, while acknowledging that McCain married an heiress but Obama is also wealthy, having earned $4 million last year And by the way, Sister Mary Wood, since McCain is not Catholic, the church probably doesn't consider his marriages valid anyway (my mother was Catholic, my father was not--when my father died at a very early age and my mother turned to a priest for comfort and support she was instead told: What did you expect--marrying outside the church?

And Obama said "America's" greatest moral failure was to fail to abide by "whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers . . ." While his own brother lives in squalor.

Pathetic, Sean. Here's an actual news story about him. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6333496

Wrong brother Grant.

I think we should move on to more important things. Like that McCain said his favorite band was ABBA. Someone drawn to music that is scarcely above elevator fare shows a serious lack of discernment that is bound to cast doubt on his ability to make important judgments about national security and the economy. He needs a running mate who can balance the ticket--maybe a Patti Smith fan or a Dead Head. That would probably not be Joe Lieberman ...

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About the Author

Eduardo Moisés Peñalver is the John P. Wilson Professor of Law at the University of Chicago Law School. He is the author of numerous books and articles on the subjects of property and land use law.