THE DEBATE OBAMA WANTS TO HAVE…. Campaigning in Grand Junction, Colorado, this afternoon, Barack Obama tackled the topic du jour.

“[T]oo many folks in Washington and on Wall Street weren’t minding the store,” Obama said. “For eight years, we’ve had policies that have shredded consumer protections, loosened oversight and regulation, and encouraged outsized bonuses to CEOs while ignoring middle-class Americans. The result is the most serious financial crisis since the Great Depression.

“I certainly don’t fault Senator John McCain for these problems, but I do fault the economic philosophy he subscribes to. It’s the same philosophy we’ve had for the last eight years — one that says we should give more and more to those with the most and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else. It’s a philosophy that says even common-sense regulations are unnecessary and unwise; one that says we should just stick our heads in the sand and ignore economic problems until they spiral into crises.

“Well now, instead of prosperity trickling down, the pain has trickled up — from the struggles of hardworking Americans on Main Street to the largest firms of Wall Street. This country cannot afford another four years of this failed philosophy.”

The language is solid, but stepping back, there’s a bigger picture to consider — Obama has been desperate for the campaign debate to turn in a substantive direction. With a crisis on Wall Street, no one’s talking about lipstick, arugula, tire gauges, Paris Hilton, or sex-ed for kindergarteners. They’re talking about the strength of the economy, the health of our financial industry, and the stability of the markets.

In other words, culture-war stunts and cultural insecurities — the backbone of the ridiculous McCain/Palin campaign — are taking a back seat to (cue scary music) substance. The entire day has featured a debate over whether the fundamentals of our economy are strong, whether McCain is out of touch, whether increased regulation would help prevent future crises, etc.

I have to assume, then, that McCain/Palin will launch some kind of new nonsense fairly soon. As long as the debate is about economic policy and market regulation, the campaign is not where McCain wants it to be.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.