BUDGET MAGIC….Josh Marshall reads about John McCain’s plan to balance the budget and is flabbergasted:

The general routine [in] the face of this kind of candidate announcement is that journalists and economists look at the numbers to see if they add up. In most cases, the exercises generates fairly unsatisfying contradictory opinions, with some experts saying one thing and other experts another.

But here’s the thing. McCain doesn’t have any numbers. None. Not vague numbers of fuzzy math. He just says he’s going to do it. Any other candidate would get laughed off the stage with that kind of nonsense or more likely reporters just wouldn’t agree to give them a write up.

Sure, but what’s a Republican to do these days? They’re supposed to be fiscal conservatives, which means they have to pretend to love balanced budgets. So McCain does. Raising taxes is, however, verboten by party fiat, which leaves an aspiring GOP president only two choices: (a) reducing spending and (b) magic. Unfortunately for our hero, proposing actual, concrete budget cuts of any substance is political suicide and he knows it. This leaves magic as the only alternative.

In McCain’s case, this seems to take the form of blather about eliminating earmarks (a reform that might be worthwhile but wouldn’t actually cut the budget); more blather about “wasteful spending” (the political blowhard’s best friend); a bit of nonsense about reducing defense expenditures after we’ve won all the wars we’re fighting (sure, you betcha); and finally, every stumped pol’s favorite gimmick: an across-the-board one-year spending freeze. This is a standard last-ditch device that gets hauled out whenever there’s no actual plan to do anything serious.

Now, that’s all bad enough, but can you imagine how bad it would be if McCain actually had the balls to put numbers to this twaddle? No more magic! Instead it would just be a bad joke.

So McCain really doesn’t have much choice. Given the economic pieties imposed on Republicans these days, he’s probably picked the least bad option available to him. There are worse things than a few days of mockery, after all.

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