As you may have gathered by now, John McCain’s big October Surprise on the policy front, the mortgage buyout proposal that he sprang during the second presidential debate, is not going over well much of anywhere.
While the proposal bears a superficial resemblence to earlier Democratic proposals for homeowner relief, its structure makes it both vastly more expensive for taxpayers, and grossly more generous to the most imprudent–and in some cases predatory–lenders. Conservatives just hate it, as evidenced by an acid-tongued editorial from National Review today, which noted the McCain plan would displace the much more modest Frank-Dodd legislation, which just took effect on October 1:
We never thought we would defend the Frank-Dodd legislation, which we bitterly opposed last summer. But it looks downright prudent compared to what McCain has proposed. McCain’s plan is a full bailout for lenders, and it cannot do much more than the Frank-Dodd bill without letting “ruthless borrowers” and other reckless types off the hook.
Unsurprisingly, Barack Obama is going after McCain’s proposal with a big sledgehammer. According to Ben Smith’s account at Politico:
On the stump in Dayton, Obama continued to drill McCain’s mortgage plan.
McCain would have “the government — meaning taxpayers, meaning you — buy up bad mortgages,” he said.
“Taxpayers shouldn’t be asked to pick up the tab for the very folks who helped to create this crisis,” Obama said. “That’s the problem with Sen. McCain’s risky idea.”
“Banks wouldn’t take a loss, but taxpayers would take a loss. It’s a plan that would guarantee that you, the American taxpayers, would lose,” he said.
“It’s not just that Sen. McCain’s bailout rewards irresponsible lenders. It’s that this bailout would make it more likely that those lenders would keep up their bad behavior.”
The plan, Obama said, “punishes taxpayers, rewards banks and won’t solve our housing crisis. This is the kind of erratic behavior we’ve been seeing out of Sen. McCain.”
Note the words “risky” and “erratic” and “irresponsible” in Obama’s speech. At a time when McCain, contrary to what his campaign was saying as recently as Tuesday night, is trying to question Obama’s character via a vast inflation of his relationship to William Ayers, Obama’s returing fire on the character front through McCain’s most recent policy proposal.
But hey, there’s a silver lining to McCain’s latest fiasco. According to Ross Douthat, the Republican nominee is so breathtakingly incompetent at developing a compelling message that he’s free to just start pulling stuff out of his posterior:
Frankly, McCain has done such a lousy job selling the domestic policy proposals he’s put forward that he’s more or less free to change them however he wants at this point. It would have been better if he had changed them dramatically and publicly on Monday, after the bailout passed and the market kept tanking, but before the debate itself. But the next time the stock market has a really bad day (i.e., tomorrow), he should “huddle with his advisers” and announce that in light of the epic crisis, he’s going to postpone his entire domestic agenda (such as it is) for, say, two years in favor of a short-term but expensive stimulus package aimed directly at the middle and working class.
Douthat actually refers to his own idea for McCain as “aggressive pandering to the middle class,” which doesn’t sound very mavericky to me. But he may be right that the poor reception accorded the most recent rabbit McCain tried to pull out of his hat shouldn’t keep him from going back to the hutch and looking for another one. If he does, though, he shouldn’t expect much support from most conservatives.