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Mccain Jumps At Obama's Unforced Error

My friends, in a softball interview with Sean Hannity tonight, John McCain seized on one of Barack Obama's few tone-deaf moments at last night's debate. During a back-and-forth over pork barrel spending, Obama dismissed McCain's fixation with that topic by saying that "Sen. McCain has been talking tough about earmarks, and that's good, but earmarks account for about $18 billion of our budget."

Obama's point, I guess, was that in the general scheme of things, $18 billion isn't all that much. True enough. But I'm not sure that's how it sounds to the average American's ears. Hence it was surprising that Obama didn't follow up by stating that figure as a percentage of the overall budget--about .006% .6%, if my math is right*. Now that's a figure anyone can understand. 

So tonight on Fox McCain had a good chuckle at Obama for supposedly saying "it's only, quote, $18 billion" (actually that's not a quote--Obama never said "only"). He added that it's a figure which "anybody but an inside-the-Beltway pork-barreller would think is a lot of money."

It's a good line--one I expect we'll hear again--and one to which Obama clumsily exposed himself. If it comes up at next week's debate, Obama should have the percentage figure ready at hand.

* Of course my math wasn't right! It's still a small number. "Less than one percent" would be a good shorthand.

--Michael Crowley