QUOTE OF THE DAY....From Joe Klein:

Ronald Reagan used to say that the most frightening nine words in the English language were "I'm from the government and I'm here to help." That is no longer true. This year, the most frightening eight words are "I'm John McCain and I approved this message."

Actually, that's just the best prepackaged zinger from the linked post. The most genuinely penetrating piece of wordsmithing was this:

We have had 30 years of class warfare, in which the wealthy strip-mined the middle class.

That's a very good metaphor. Personally, I'm not very interested in income redistribution. I'm interested in getting the distribution right in the first place. For three decades we've artificially kept middle class wage increases far below the growth rate of the economy, and this trend has been even more pronounced over the past eight years. This has created an enormous pool of extra money that's been — yes — strip mined and redirected to the rich, and fixing this is Barack Obama's biggest and longest-term challenge. If we restore the normal growth of middle class wages, it provides a sustainable consumer base for the entire economy; it reduces the demand for endless credit card debt; it brings down income inequality naturally; and it goes a long way toward keeping the financial sector under control and reining in Wall Street salaries without putting in place a bunch of artificial (and probably fruitless) regulations.

And that's just for starters. Stop the strip mining and economic vigor will follow. It's at the core of everything.

Or if the Court of Common Pleas in Lucas County, Ohio, issued a tax lien on Joe Wurzelbacher, the now-(in)famous plumber-by-association?

I don't; nobody should.

But while John McCain and the right are heralding Joe as a hero for asking Barack Obama head-on if the plumbing business he wants to buy would pay higher taxes under Obama's economic plan, everyone else, it seems, is prying into his life and making a huff about the fact that he was never licensed as a plumber in Ohio, owes back taxes, and just might be related to Charles Keating.

Why can't we—the media—leave the guy alone? As far as I'm concerned, there are only two things that matter about Wurzelbacher: He probably won't actually pay more taxes under Obama's plan if he buys the plumbing business, and, as Andrew Sullivan notes:

Joe the Plumber has now had more press conferences than Sarah Palin.

—Steve Aquino

Priorities

PRIORITIES....Pakistan's economy is about to implode and they're looking for help:

President Asif Ali Zardari arrived in Beijing on Tuesday for a four-day state visit as concern has surged over a possible debt default by Pakistan that could cripple its economy and spark more civil unrest. While the amount of money Pakistan needs in the short term is relatively small — $4 billion to $6 billion — analysts say the climate of crisis and public anger over domestic bailouts in the United States and Western Europe have made even a modest infusion from its Western allies politically difficult.

....The Bush administration and Congress have been shaping a long-term economic and military assistance package for Pakistan, but there is no indication the United States is able to step in with a short-term financial lifeline.

Pakistan is going to the Chinese now "because you go to the guys with the money," a senior International Monetary Fund official said. "And right now, the Chinese are the ones with the money."

By itself, this isn't a big deal. Pakistan has long been friendly with China, so there's no reason they shouldn't ask them for assistance.

Still, this is the kind of thing that's a canary in the coal mine. Global power generally flows to "the ones with the money," and to the extent that this is China, not the United States, our influence in the world inevitably wanes. In other words, it's not just a platitude to say that getting our economic shop in order really is at least as important as the fact that we can project military power into places like Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, considering how well that projection has gone lately, it's probably more important — and that means that it's time to get our priorities in order. This is decidedly not the right way to do it.

UPDATE: Dan Drezner says, "this is a very small canary." I agree.

JOE THE....UM....WHATEVER....Chris Orr is agog at the attention conservatives are paying to supposed weathervane du jour Joe the Plumber:

Do not expect this ardor to be dampened by the facts that Wurzelbacher is not an independent, makes nowhere near the $250,000 that prompted his question to Obama, and is not, in fact, a licensed plumber.

Okay, but at least his name really is Joe, isn't it? That counts for something.

UPDATE: I was just kidding, but it turns out his name isn't Joe. It's Samuel. Sheesh. But I guess he goes by Joe.

So says Dana Milbank:

I have to say the Secret Service is in dangerous territory here. In cooperation with the Palin campaign, they've started preventing reporters from leaving the press section to interview people in the crowd. This is a serious violation of their duty -- protecting the protectee -- and gets into assisting with the political aspirations of the candidate. It also often makes it impossible for reporters to get into the crowd to question the people who say vulgar things. So they prevent reporters from getting near the people doing the shouting, then claim it's unfounded because the reporters can't get close enough to identify the person.

Via Poynter Online. Wanna know why the McCain campaign wants to limit the media's access? Because it makes videos like this one.

mojo-photo-letterman.jpgThe New York Times Caucus blog is reporting that John McCain was nearly forced to miss the taping of his "make-up" apperance on "The Late Show With David Letterman" as flights out of Philadelphia were experiencing delays. Dave would have blown his freakin' top. But they turned around and hired a helicopter:

The last time Mr. McCain canceled an appearance on "The Late Show" Mr. Letterman was not amused, and he has not let go of his fury... So when Mr. McCain found himself stuck on the tarmac here in Philadelphia, with what aides described as a two-hour delay on planes flying to Newark, he knew he had to act.
Mr. McCain's campaign plane turned around, and the campaign hired a small helicopter to whisk him, his wife, Cindy, two of their aides, and two Secret Service Agents, to their rendezvous with comedy.

McCain famously cancelled an appearance on Letterman's show three weeks ago as part of his Operation Pretend to Suspend the Campaign, but then turned up on a CBS internal feed preparing for a chat with Katie Couric. Letterman has mocked the senator ferociously since then. Tonight's appearance was to be a last-ditch attempt by McCain to calm Letterman down, but like just about everything these days, it sure seems like a lose-lose for poor old John. After the jump, a couple of choice McCain-skewering moments from recent Late Shows.

Oil Bubble Watch

OIL BUBBLE WATCH....The latest on oil prices:

In New York, oil futures fell as much as 8 percent to $68.57 a barrel on Thursday, their lowest since June 2007. Oil has lost half its value since hitting a record closing price of $145.29 a barrel in July.

....Global oil demand is undeniably slowing, particularly in developed nations. Japanese oil consumption dropped 12 percent in August, while in the United States, demand has been cut by 8 percent in September.

Still, consumption is growing in developing nations, albeit at a slower pace. The International Energy Agency expects global oil demand to grow by just 400,000 barrels a day this year, to 86.5 million barrels a day. At the beginning of the year, the agency was expecting growth of more than 2 million barrels for 2008.

So does this mean that this year's runup in oil prices was a speculative bubble after all? At first I didn't think so, but by the middle of the year I was beginning to wonder. Still, even at the height of the bubble in June, the best I could say was that the price spike "had a bit of a bubbly feel to it" but that I didn't really have any solid evidence to back that up.

I still don't, really. The problem is that there were genuine supply and demand issues pushing prices up beginning in 2007. But as prices skyrocketed, demand eventually went down. Then the banking crisis kicked into high gear and everyone got afraid that we were headed for a global recession. Those are both perfectly normal reasons for the price of oil to fall.

On the other hand, the "Enron loophole" that the bubble pushers kept talking about got closed in June too. And a couple of months ago the CFTC discovered that "financial firms speculating for their clients or for themselves account for about 81 percent of the oil contracts on NYMEX, a far bigger share than had previously been stated by the agency." So maybe it really was a speculative bubble after all.

Bottom line: Occasionally you get a massive, long-running thing like the housing bubble, which is visible (to some people at least) even while it's happening. Most of the time, though, bubbles are pretty hard to identify. This particular runup is hard to call even in hindsight.

POSTSCRIPT: However, one thing is obvious: this kind of price instability is going to be with us for a long time as oil demand bumps up against maximum oil production. Full story here.

Shorthand

SHORTHAND....Via Sullivan, John Podhoretz says McCain screwed up last night:

The problem, in my view, is that the shorthand in which McCain spoke about these matters made them comprehensible only to those of us who are already schooled in them. In almost every case, Obama answered McCain's shorthand with longhand — with detailed, even long-winded answers that gave the distinct impression he was more in command of the details of these charges than the man who was trying to go after him on them.

That's what I meant last night when I said McCain was talking in "code." Over and over he'd respond to Obama with a brief staccato outburst — "health of the mother," "statute of limitations," "marketing assistance program," "helping FARC," etc. — that political junkies might have understood, but probably no one else. He sounded like a guy who had so many preplanned attacks lined up that he could barely spit all of them out in the allotted time. At times he almost seemed like he was gasping for air.

Overall, I don't take too seriously the insta-polls that are released right after the debate. They show that Obama won, but a lot of that was just because Obama has high support levels right now, and you're way more likely to think your guy won the debate than the other guy. Still, I think this was the worst of McCain's debate performances. He might have pepped up the base a bit, but he didn't help himself with anybody else.

THE CAMPAIGN IN A NUTSHELL....This picture is a microcosm of the entire campaign. It's totally unfair, it could happen to any of us, it's just an unfortunate trick of timing and angle, but....well, nothing is going right for John McCain this year, is it? The guy is cursed.

Speaking of that, though, here is Jacob Hacker:

We political scientists generally subscribe to the "minimal effects" view of campaigns, in which both sides are savvy enough that their efforts cancel each other out. And this certainly seems like an election in which the fundamentals have swamped any campaign strategies either side has used. But I think it's time to recognize that Obama has done something more profound in this cycle than simply run a smart campaign; he is showing that the old Republican strategy on economic policy of calling for tax cuts and criticizing government, while thowing mud in every other area, has real limits when the other side directly confronts it with arguments for "investment" and more carefully targeted tax policies.

I really think this is off base. Yes, Obama has run a good, disciplined campaign, but I think Jacob was right the first time around: the fundamentals have dominated every step of the way. Sure, Obama's calls for investment might deserve some small credit for his success, but come on: every Democrat has learned to call their spending programs "investments." That's a no-brainer. What's more, this isn't the cornerstone of Obama's economic program anyway. His cornerstone is a platform of huge tax cuts, which he's been publicizing with massive advertising blitzes in every battleground state in the country. Joe the Plumber might not be happy with Obama's plan, but as Obama himself keeps hammering away at, 95% of the country should like it just fine.

Aside from all the other fundamentals pointing to a Democratic victory this year, Obama has been successful mainly because (a) he's fought tax cuts with tax cuts, and (b) the financial crisis has swamped everything else. I would really, really like to think that Obama has found the magic bullet for fighting the tax cut loonies at the Journal and the Club for Growth, but the evidence just doesn't back it up. Unfortunately for the cause of liberalism, he's chosen instead to cave in and fight entirely on their turf. This is almost certainly a tactically wise decision, but it's not something progressives should be very happy about.

Roe v. Wade

ROE v. WADE....I don't want to spend a ton of time rehashing last night's debate, but what did John McCain mean in this exchange about Supreme Court nominees?

Schieffer: But even if it was someone — even someone who had a history of being for abortion rights, you would consider them?

McCain: I would consider anyone in their qualifications. I do not believe that someone who has supported Roe v. Wade that would be part of those qualifications. But I certainly would not impose any litmus test.

First, he'd consider anyone "in their qualifications." Then he says that support for Roe v. Wade would be a qualification that would cause him to reject a candidate. But then he says there's no litmus test.

What did that mean? Just random incoherence? Or is there some subtlety I'm missing?