ANOTHER MCCAIN REINVENTION UNDERWAY…. Yesterday, on the “Today” show, John McCain rejected the notion of government intervention to support AIG, saying, “I do not believe that the American taxpayer should be on the hook for AIG.” NBC’s Matt Lauer asked, “So, if we get to the point, in the middle of the week when AIG might have to file for bankruptcy, they’re on their own?” McCain replied, “Well, they’re on their own.”

This morning on “Good Morning America,” McCain took a far different line on the bailout. “I didn’t want to do that. And I don’t think anybody I know wanted to do that. But there are literally millions of people whose retirement, whose investment, whose insurance were at risk here,” McCain said.

It was yet another reminder that when it comes to addressing trying economic times, McCain has to pretend he never believed all of the things he’s always believed.

A decade ago, Sen. John McCain embraced legislation to broadly deregulate the banking and insurance industries, helping to sweep aside a thicket of rules established over decades in favor of a less restricted financial marketplace that proponents said would result in greater economic growth.

Now, as the Bush administration scrambles to prevent the collapse of the American International Group (AIG), the nation’s largest insurance company, and stabilize a tumultuous Wall Street, the Republican presidential nominee is scrambling to recast himself as a champion of regulation to end “reckless conduct, corruption and unbridled greed” on Wall Street. […]

McCain hopes to tap into anger among voters who are looking for someone to blame for the economic meltdown that threatens their home values, bank accounts and 401(k) plans. But his past support of congressional deregulation efforts and his arguments against “government interference” in the free market by federal, state and local officials have given Sen. Barack Obama an opening to press the advantage Democrats traditionally have in times of economic trouble.

This is more than just about giving Obama an opening; it’s principally about McCain trying to reinvent himself on the fly, hoping no one notices.

[In 1999], McCain had joined with other Republicans to push through landmark legislation sponsored by then-Sen. Phil Gramm (Tex.), who is now an economic adviser to his campaign. The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act aimed to make the country’s financial institutions competitive by removing the Depression-era walls between banking, investment and insurance companies.

That bill allowed AIG to participate in the gold rush of a rapidly expanding global banking and investment market. But the legislation also helped pave the way for companies such as AIG and Lehman Brothers to become behemoths laden with bad loans and investments.

McCain now condemns the executives at those companies for pursuing the ambitions that the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act made possible.

In other words, McCain personally gave the financial industry a green light to do exactly what they did. And now he’s outraged.

It’s precisely why McCain’s economic message has been so oddly incoherent this week. Turning on a dime, he’s gone from supporting fewer regulations to supporting more, from supporting less oversight to supporting more. McCain is slamming Wall Street execs for playing a dangerous game after McCain helped throw out the rules.

McCain said during the Republican primaries, “The issue of economics is not something I’ve understood as well as I should.” He continues to prove it with each passing day.

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.