McCain hands Obama a target

MCCAIN HANDS OBAMA A TARGET…. John McCain unveiled his latest in a series of responses to the financial crisis, explaining that he wants the Treasury Department to buy up bad home mortgages. But you know who seems really anxious to talk about McCain’s proposal? Barack Obama. He tore into the plan during a speech in Dayton, Ohio.

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.”

Indeed, the Obama campaign seems very animated about tackling McCain’s “plan,” hitting the proposal in speeches, in a new television ad, and in a new memo to reporters put together by Jason Furman, the Obama-Biden Economic Policy Director. Put it this way: the Obama campaign seems far more anxious to talk about McCain’s idea than the McCain campaign.

On the substance, McCain’s $300 billion policy is a bit of a joke, and is getting slammed from the left and the right. No one’s taking it seriously, and no one seems to think the idea has any merit.

But from a purely political perspective, this was supposed to be the week in which McCain put Obama back on the defensive, hitting him with a bunch of sleazy attacks and guilt-by-association smears. Except, by unveiling the foolish “homeownership resurgence plan,” McCain has offered Obama a chance to stay on the offensive, and hammer McCain on his weakest subject — the economy.

This afternoon, in Wisconsin, McCain chastised Obama for opposing his plan. “Do you want to help the homeowners of America, or do you want to help Wall Street?” McCain said. “That’s the question here.”

First, that’s an unusually stupid response, given what McCain’s policy actually entails. And second, the back and forth keeps the campaign focused on a debate over the economy — instead of a debate about a ’60s-era radical — which is exactly the opposite of McCain’s goal.

Instead of changing the subject, McCain made it easier for Obama to reemphasize the economy and paint McCain as erratic and out of touch. Someone at McCain campaign headquarters really didn’t think this through.