In my ideal world, the fact that John McCain cannot remember how many houses he has would not be a very big deal. It does make it clear just how wealthy he and his wife are, and it raises the question how well he understands life outside the cocoon of privilege. But in my ideal world, it would have been far less important than some of the other things McCain has said. For instance, the unforgettable moment in which John McCain revealed that he doesn’t know what an economic stimulus is:

“People talk about a stimulus package. Fine, if that’s what we want to come up with. But stop the spending first.”

Or the fact that he doesn’t understand what a cap and trade system is, despite having co-authored legislation that would create one:

“Russert: Senator McCain, you are in favor of mandatory caps.

McCain: No, I’m in favor of cap-and-trade.”

Or perhaps his record of alarmism on foreign policy:

“In short, not only is Russia on the march beyond Tbilisi to Ukraine, Finland, and substantial swathes of Poland but that’s not even the transcendent issue of our time. And North Korea’s nuclear program is “the greatest challenge to U.S. security and world stability today” but that’s not the transcendent issue of our time. And Islamism is the transcendent issue of our time, but not a serious international crisis or an especially great challenge to U.S. security and world stability. Now of course there’s no way to make sense of that, because it’s not supposed to make any kind of sense. McCain just thinks that overreacting is the right reaction to everything. It’s a hysteria-based foreign policy.”

However, we don’t live in my ideal world. In the world we actually live in, as Paul Krugman says:

“Republicans always — always — campaign by portraying the Democratic candidate as an out-of-touch elitist, while their guy is a man of the people. Al Gore grew up in a penthouse apartment! (In a shabby residence hotel, but never mind.) John Kerry windsurfs! Meanwhile, George Bush vacations at his ranch (bought as a prop for the 2000 campaign — and he doesn’t ride horses — but somehow that never got brought up.)”

Every four years they do the same thing. If memory serves, they did it to Bill Clinton, of all people. And every four years, they protest bitterly whenever anyone points out the absurdity of thinking, for instance, that George W. Bush of all people is just an ordinary guy, like all those other ordinary guys who are legacy admissions to Andover and Yale, and have their failing businesses rescued by an apparently endless series of family acquaintances and people who want to sink their savings into a money-losing business run by the Vice President’s son.

The reason it matters that John McCain can’t remember how many houses he has is just this: with one little remark, he has made it impossible for Republicans to run their usual storyline about their candidate as an everyday guy in touch with ordinary people, and the Democratic candidate as a scary elitist who lives on latte and arugula. That line of attack, which was always ludicrous and never relevant, has just gone glimmering, to be replaced by the stories like this:

“McCain, who has portrayed Obama as an elitist, is the son and grandson of admirals. The Associated Press estimates his wife, a beer heiress, is worth $100 million. Obama was raised by a single mother who relied at times on food stamps, and went to top schools on scholarships and loans. His income has increased from book sales since he spoke at the 2004 Democratic convention.”

About time. With that line of attack neutralized, perhaps we can get to actual issues.

(Cross-posted at Obsidian Wings)

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