Republican John McCain berated Wall Street, a day after he said the fundamentals of the economy were still strong despite the economic troubles. Campaigning with his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, he said regulation needs to be streamlined.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Senator McCain has been adopting an aggressive tone toward Wall Street. And today, he backed away from more optimistic comments he made yesterday when he said the fundamentals of our economy are strong. Today in TV appearances and on the stump, he berated Wall Street.
Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona; 2008 Republican Presidential Nominee): You know, Americans put a lot of trust in the bankers and brokerage firms of Wall Street. They depend on the financial service sector to protect their savings, IRAs, 401(k)s, and pension accounts. But many leaders in finance have proven unworthy of that trust.
SIEGEL: McCain held a rally in Florida this morning, and then he flew to Ohio to meet up with his running mate, Sarah Palin. NPR's David Greene is also in Ohio, and David joins us now. McCain and Palin held a rally this afternoon. What was the message on the economy there?
DAVID GREENE: They did, Robert. And the message really was trying to connect with these Ohio voters, working families. Sarah Palin came out and said, you know, she drives by gas stations. She sees how high the gas prices are getting again. She knows it's become a luxury to even fill your car up.
And she said that John McCain is the guy who's going to fight for you when it comes to those sorts of struggles and also when it comes to your money that you have invested on Wall Street. She said that, if anyone is going to reform Wall Street and get tough and regulate, John McCain is their man.
SIEGEL: Now, the senator, as we've heard, has said in the past that he favors deregulation. Did he offer any specifics today of how he would tighten regulation on Wall Street?
GREENE: Some, I'd say some, not a lot. One thing he did talk about was that he feels there are too many federal agencies involved in monitoring the investment markets, and he feels like they need to be - regulation needs to be streamlined. And he said he also wants to make it much tougher.
But you're right. As you said, Robert, he's not known as a regulator. He's known as a deregulator. That's one issue that his campaign has been trying to confront. And they said that when McCain was chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, he was a pragmatist. You know, he didn't like government regulation, but he turned to it when it came to industries like telecommunication at points when he thought that it was really worthwhile. But not a lot of specifics.
I've got to say, a lot of this event here in Ohio was taking down Barack Obama and suggesting that he is not the person to fight for them. Sarah Palin got up. She brought back Barack Obama's old comments about working families clinging to guns and religion and said that he's a candidate who will say one thing when he's in the presence of working families and another when he's out with donors in San Francisco. And John McCain noted that Barack Obama is on his way to a fundraiser in Hollywood with Barbara Streisand. And he said, I don't want to be there. I want to be here with you, the working people of Ohio.
SIEGEL: I want to ask you a question about the most talked about non-existent bridge in America. The McCain campaign and Governor Palin have been repeating the signature line that she said, thanks but no thanks for the bridge to nowhere. It's a line that multiple news organizations, including ours, have pointed out just isn't true. Did she say it again today?
GREENE: Well, it's been the most talked about until today. She did not bring it up at this event in Ohio, but the campaign did put out a lengthy memo explaining the so-called bridge to nowhere. And they basically argue that Sarah Palin did support it at one point.
In fact, the memo from the McCain campaign itself was that she had a spokesman during her run for governor who confirmed that she did support the bridge, but that in the end, in 2007, that she did actually say no and helped kill the project. So I think this is going to be an ongoing battle and, as you said, a topic that is going to be in the conversation as we go forward, no doubt.
SIEGEL: But the line came out of the stump speech today, you're saying?
GREENE: Today, no line, yeah. Not a mention of it today in Ohio.
SIEGEL: OK. NPR's David Greene in Vienna, Ohio. Thank you, David.
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Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama has characterized the financial turmoil on Wall Street as "nothing less than the final verdict" on Republicans' failed economic philosophy.
Both he and his GOP rival, John McCain, have said that there needs to be an overhaul of financial regulation, but Obama said McCain's proposals are not credible given his history of supporting deregulation as a senator.
On Tuesday, Obama said the collapse of investment bank Lehman Brothers is just the latest in a wave of crises that have rattled faith in the financial markets and now threaten the nation's economy. He laid the blame for that lost confidence on an anything-goes philosophy that he said rewards financial manipulation instead of sound business.
"I am running for president because we simply cannot afford four more years of an economic philosophy that works for the few but leaves the many behind. That works for Wall Street instead of Main Street and ends up devastating both," he said in a speech at the Colorado School of Mines, outside Denver.
There, Obama also said that runaway free-market philosophy has governed Washington, D.C., for the past eight years, since Republicans took control of the White House. And he says the same philosophy will continue if McCain is elected president.
"They call it the ownership society, but what it really means is you're on your own," he said. "We know the results. You feel it in your own lives. Jobs have disappeared, and people's life savings have been put at risk. Millions of families face foreclosure, and millions more have seen their home values plummet."
As he has before, Obama portrayed the mortgage meltdown on Wall Street as the predictable result not of some invisible hand but of government policymakers who allowed lenders to make bad home loans with little protection for borrowers, or for the investors who underwrote the now popped housing bubble.
"This is what happens when you see seven years of incomes falling for the average worker while Wall Street is booming and declare — as Sen. McCain did earlier this year — that we've made great progress economically under George Bush," Obama said. "That is how you can reach the conclusion — as late as yesterday — that the fundamentals of the economy are strong."
Comparing Records On Regulatory Oversight
More than two years ago, Obama sponsored legislation to outlaw risky or fraudulent mortgage abuses. McCain, he said, did nothing.
Six months ago, Obama outlined plans for what he called a 21st century framework of financial regulation, at a time when McCain was still saying the government should do little to help irresponsible lenders or borrowers.
This week, as the stock market plunged, McCain did call for an overhaul and updating of financial regulation. But Obama notes that McCain told the Wall Street Journal in March, "I'm always for less regulation," and that he's "fundamentally a deregulator."
"John McCain cannot be trusted to re-establish proper oversight of our financial markets for one simple reason: He has shown time and again that he does not believe in it," Obama said.
McCain's traditional support for deregulation is in line with Republican orthodoxy, and over the years, some Democrats have also pushed for the government to play a smaller role in the economy. But Obama believes that in the current economic climate, public attitudes have shifted to support more regulation, not less.
"This time — this election — is our chance to stand up and say: enough. Eight is enough!" he said.