John McCain rose up in high dudgeon the other day to essentially blame Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) chairman and former congressman Chris Cox for the financial meltdown in which the nation finds itself, in spite of the fact that the SEC — whether it might have done more or not — could neither have prevented what has led us to our current predicament nor done much about it once we got here.

Many were taken aback by McCain’s target and the personal vehemence of the attack. Cox should be fired, McCain roared, because he’s “betrayed the public trust.” George Will has pointed out, however, that this is vintage McCain, who sees the world around him in rather simple moral blacks and whites. In McCainWorld there are good guys (who might best be described as men and women who agree with him) and there are bad guys (who disagree with him for reasons that can only be described as “evil”). There seem to be very few honest disagreements in McCainWorld, because anyone of good heart would, of course, agree with the man.

But why Cox? Some thought perhaps the two men had disagreed on legislative language on a conference committee at some point in the distant past. That might well have happened. If it did, McCain would remember and, knowing that Cox’s motives then had to be evil, assume that it would be natural for him to betray the public trust in his current position.

Again, however, Will seems to have gotten to the nub of the problem. It seems that the senator’s chief economic and domestic adviser had clashed with Cox when Cox was in Congress and he headed the Congressional Budget Office. The clash came over the question of whether the CBO, in making economic projections on the possible future impact of tax cuts and the like, should employ what economists call “dynamic” (as opposed to “static”) scoring. Cox and most conservatives favored dynamic scoring because such an approach took account of the reality that a cut in the capital gains tax, for example, would produce greater economic activity and might actually increase rather than decrease net revenues to the Treasury, or at least mitigate against the “cost” of the cut to the government.

As CBO head, Douglas Holtz-Eakin fought like a dog to prevent any resort to dynamic scoring, which might make cutting taxes easier. It was and remains a nasty fight with huge consequences, and Holtz-Eakin, who was a consistent opponent of supply-side and other tax cuts, knew exactly how important it was to stop Cox and his fellow conservatives from winning.

It was Holtz-Eakin who took the position that the Bush tax cuts — which McCain now says he wants made permanent — were a bad idea back in 2001 and who, one might reasonably suspect, had something to do with McCain’s opposition to them at the time.

He rather than McCain has reason to dislike Cox, but if he had anything to do with trying to “get” his old nemesis in the midst of a hard-fought campaign by suggesting to his candidate that he might consider urging that Cox be fired, he mis-served his candidate and ought himself be sent packing.

But then, in a totally inexplicable move, McCain suggested that if he were president he would not only fire Cox, but replace him with Andrew Cuomo, who proved during his time in Washington under Bill Clinton that he is neither particularly competent nor swift enough to regulate the boys on Wall Street. Nice choice. One can only assume that with Eliot Spitzer gone, McCain had to find a Democrat of the same ilk to praise as just the sort of person he would welcome in his administration.

Like most conservatives, I’m still prepared to vote for the man from Arizona because the alternative strikes me as worse, but as this campaign progresses one continually wonders why a nation of 300 million people can’t cough up more appealing leaders.


Keene is chairman of The American Conservative Union, whose website can be accessed here.