John McCain's (Glass) Houses

[ Posted Thursday, August 21st, 2008 – 15:31 UTC ]

One can almost picture the scene -- a high-level campaign strategy session inside Barack Obama's headquarters. "So everyone's saying Obama should fight back against McCain's smears... how should we go about doing that?" "Hey, what about... I don't know... maybe highlighting the really stupid things McCain says on the campaign trail -- almost on a daily basis?!?"

Obama's team must have come to this rather obvious conclusion, because McCain just uttered (yet again) one of his jaw-dropping gaffes -- on the record, to a reporter -- and this time Obama picked up the ball and ran with it.

When asked by Politico how many houses he owned, John McCain responded:

"I think -- I'll have my staff get to you. It's condominiums where -- I'll have them get to you."

Let's all just pause and let that sink in. John McCain doesn't know how many houses he owns. That's really going to go over well with Johnny Blue-Collar-Sixpack, don't you think?

I just have to pause here and toot my own horn for a little bit. Because I have been begging someone -- anyone -- to ask this question for a while now. I started pointing out that McCain and his wife were vulnerable on this issue back in May. From my Friday Talking Points [31] (5/9/08):

"Why won't the media ask what Cindy McCain is hiding? Why won't she release her tax returns? In his famous 'Checkers' speech, Richard Nixon said the following, while trying to explain a slush fund his campaign had: '…Pat doesn't have a mink coat. But she does have a respectable Republican cloth coat…'

"Boy, how times have changed, eh? From the concept of a candidate's wife having a quote respectable Republican cloth coat unquote to Cindy McCain. You think maybe Cindy McCain's worn a mink coat or two in her life? The Republicans have become the true elitist party, as evidenced by Cindy McCain trying to hide her enormous wealth from the public. How is it that Mr. 'Straight Talk' McCain can't even get his own wife to release her tax returns?"

By July, I had boiled it down to the perfect question to highlight this. From FTP [38] (7/11/08):

There are a number of ways to point out the elitism inherent in John McCain, but the best way is to focus on his own (and his heiress wife's) vast wealth as a way to show voters who he really is.

"No wonder John McCain doesn't 'get it' about the effects of the Bush economic policies on average Americans. It was just reported that his wife spent three quarters of a million dollars -- in just one month -- on her credit cards. This isn't exactly an 'average American family.' I keep wondering why the media doesn't ask very simple questions to show what an out-of-touch elitist John McCain really is -- questions like: 'So how many houses do you and your wife own, Senator McCain?' The average voter would be astonished at the answers to easy questions like that. If, of course, they were ever asked."

Two weeks ago, I returned to this idea, after Obama had been caricatured in a McCain ad as some sort of Paris Hilton celebrity. From FTP [42] (8/8/08), where I suggested a speech for Obama to give:

I'd like to ask Senator McCain a few questions -- starting with why he has such a low opinion of your intelligence. Does John McCain think that Americans are such idiots that they won't notice his own lavish lifestyle? Senator McCain, I'd like to ask you a few questions about your life, to see which one of us truly does live like a rock star, and which one of us knows how average Americans live.

Has John McCain or anyone in his immediate family ever had to take out a student loan to go to college? I just paid mine off, a milestone for any American who has had to work to get through college, instead of it being handed to him on a plate. How many of you know about student loans? Yeah? You do? So do I. And yet, John McCain wants you to believe he is more in touch with average Americans like you, even though he wouldn't know what a student loan form looked like if it came up and bit him on the ankle. But remember that according to John, Obama is the elitist.

I'd like to ask John just how many houses he and his wife actually own. And how much the cheapest of these houses is worth. How many average Americans own this many homes, or homes worth this much? And how many of those average Americans are struggling to pay the mortgage on just one house? I wonder how many servants the McCains have on their payroll — just to keep all those houses looking nice. And yet, John McCain thinks he's more in touch with average Americans, as he decides every night just which of the many houses he owns he'd like to sleep in. Yet, Obama is somehow the celebrity, not this man with a such a wide choice of places to rest his head. According to John.

John's wife was recently quoted saying "in Arizona, the only way to get around the state is by small private plane." Wow. That must be nice, huh? I wonder what all of his constituents stuck in traffic would have to say about that. Maybe they can all eat some cake while sitting in their cars in Arizona. But remember, John McCain is supposed to be more in touch with those commuters than I am, because I am somehow above all that. Sounds like McCain's the one who is "above" all those people, in his wife's private plane. No wonder he can't see their needs, at that distance.

The McCains have reportedly spent over three-quarters of a million dollars -- in ONE MONTH -- on their credit cards during this campaign. Now, I don't know how many of you out there have ever spent seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars on a credit card. I certainly haven't. How many of you think you'll spend that much on your credit cards in your entire life? And yet, the McCains spent that much money in one month's time, just on their credit cards alone. But remember, Obama is the elitist in this campaign, who doesn't understand the working man and woman's problems. The McCains charge more money than most people see in their lives on plastic in one month's time… and yet somehow Obama is the one living a celebrity lifestyle. It just boggles the mind. How dumb does John McCain think you all are?

And then just last week, I returned to beat this drum again. From FTP [43] (8/15/08), where I gave an award to two groups who actually began to make some noise about this issue:

This week, the American Federation of Labor - Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) put out a mailer to retired union members (they plan to target Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan in particular) which points out the McCains' wealth and asks (emphasis in original):

"McCain's worth over $100 million... He owns 10 houses... He flies around on a $12.6 million corporate jet... He walks around in $520 Italian loafers... If John McCain lost his Social Security, he'd get by just fine. Would you?"

Now that's more like it!

Also this week, Brave New Films put out a short video which highlights some of the places the McCains call home, compared to someone facing foreclosure. Sam Stein of the Huffington Post has the story, and the video.

There's nothing that takes the wind out of the sails of calling Barack Obama an "elitist" by pointing out the fact that the McCains are sitting on a mountain of money.

So, for hitting the McCains where they live, the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award goes to both the AFL-CIO and Brave New Films. Well, done, guys! Lets hear this on the campaign trail every time McCain tries to play the "elitist" card!

And now someone finally -- Finally!! -- has actually asked John McCain the question. And McCain blew the answer. Big time. How many American voters are so elitist that they don't even know how many houses they own? How is this going to play in the Rust Belt states? You think this is going to resonate among blue-collar voters?

Well, if they hear about it, maybe. But Barack Obama, to his enormous credit, has picked up this gauntlet and smacked McCain in the face with it. Here is what Obama had to say about it during a campaign rally today:

"Yesterday, [John McCain] was asked again what do you think about the economy, he said I think the economy is fundamentally strong. Now this puzzled me. I was confused what he meant. But then there was another interview where somebody asked John McCain how many houses do you have and he said 'I'm not sure. I'll have to check with my staff.' True quote. 'I'm not sure I'll have to check with my staff.' So they asked his staff and they said, 'at least four.' At least four. Now think about that. I guess if you think that being rich means you make $5 million and if you don't know how many houses you have then it is not surprising that you think the economy is fundamentally strong. But if you are like me and you've got one house, or if you are like the millions of people struggling now to keep up with your mortgage payments, you might have a different perspective. By the way the answer is John McCain has seven homes."

Now, that is most emphatically more like it!

McCain's camp instantly responded (reportedly before Obama even got off the stage). Their first effort was a little weak, though (from the same article):

"Does a guy who made more than $4 million last year, just got back from vacation on a private beach in Hawaii and bought his own million-dollar mansion with the help of a convicted felon really want to get into a debate about houses? Does a guy who worries about the price of arugula and thinks regular people 'cling' to guns and religion in the face of economic hardship really want to have a debate about who's in touch with regular Americans?"

Well, um, yeah... because there's a difference between eating arugula and not knowing how many houses you own. I think regular Americans know the difference between the two.

Realizing this was somewhat weak, the McCain people regrouped, and pulled out their favorite chestnut -- playing the "prisoner of war" card. Seriously. Here was their second response, to the Washington Post today:

"We're delighted to have a real estate debate with Barack Obama," said spokesman Brian Rogers, adding that the press should focus on Obama's house. "It's a frickin' mansion. He doesn't tell people that. You have a mansion you bought in a shady deal with a convicted felon."

. . .

The McCain campaign was in full damage-control mode as the housing story took off today. Rogers tried to play down the story, saying that reports of the many McCain houses were overstated.

"The reality is they have some investment properties and stuff. It's not as if he lives in ten houses. That's just not the case," Rogers said. "The reality is they have four that actually could be considered houses they could use."

Those four include an apartment in Arlington, a ranch in Sedona, and two condos, in California and Phoenix, he said. The others include "some investment properties and things like that."

He also added: "This is a guy who lived in one house for five and a half years -- in prison," referring to the prisoner of war camp that McCain was in during the Vietnam War.

I know there are a lot of links in what I've written here, but this article really must be read in its entirety to fully comprehend how terrified the McCain folks are about how effective this attack is going to be. Rogers complains that the whole story is "by far the most personal attack" of the entire campaign to date (conveniently forgetting about virtually everything the McCain camp has ever said about Obama), and then goes on to prove this beyond a shadow of a doubt, referring to Obama as "an arugula-eating, pointy headed professor-type." Because, as Rogers says, we wouldn't want to get into "personal attack" mode or anything.


Because it's going to be pretty hard to convince average Americans that somehow living in one "frickin' mansion" is supposed to be worse than living in four frickin' mansions... not counting all those "investment properties and stuff." Good luck selling that one in the steel and coal towns of Appalachia.

The War Room over at Salon ran a column on the fracas which ends with the following:

Get your calendars and diaries out and mark down today's date: This could be the tipping point when the mantle of "out-of-touch elitist party" began to shift.

I would go even further. This could be the week we all remember as the turning point in Obama's campaign. Barack has actually been out there throwing jabs and uppercuts at McCain ever since he got back from vacation, but the mainstream media has largely ignored it. Up until now. This one may be too juicy for the media to pass up.

Because, judging from the McCain campaign's reaction, Barack Obama has finally stopped playing defense and started playing offense. This is the first time in weeks that McCain has actually had to answer charges coming from Obama, instead of the other way around. And keeping McCain defensively back on his heels is exactly -- exactly -- what Obama needs heading into the Democratic convention next week.

There's really only one way Barack Obama could blow this... and that is by backing down. Because Obama is telling the truth, using John McCain's own words. There is absolutely no reason for him to back down one tiny inch on this. It would be a sign of weakness, and a sign that Democrats can't take a real political fistfight. But if Obama stays with his original message in this dustup, he's going to win this battle.

And, hopefully, the election.


-- Chris Weigant


One Comment on “John McCain's (Glass) Houses”

  1. [1] 
    BLaws wrote:

    This line of attack has legs to actually stick around. All the MSM has run with it. It was all over CNN, MSNBC, and NPR yesterday and this morning again as well.

    Now if we could just get someone besides Keith Olbermann to run with the comment McCain made in his own book about how he ran for president out of pure ambition. There is even the all important audio of it from the audio version.

    By the way, not sure if you caught it but I've now heard "Keating Five" brought up twice lately. Roy Sekoff brought it up again last night on Verdict. When the McCain camp claimed that Obama pushing the house issue opened up Rezko and Wright (as if they wouldn't use them anyway) Roy asked "Well does that then open the door to Keating 5?"

    No traction yet but I figured you'd like to know.

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