John McCain not only surprised and pleased many with his hands-off stand against government intervention in the home mortgage "crisis," he broke through the liberal media's fascination with Obama-Clinton, but at a cost -- the New York Times's front-page story from March 26 was notably unsympathetic, relaying only criticism from his Democratic opponents. Hillary's plan, by contrast, had been warmly received by the Times the day before.
Late last week McCain pivoted toward calling for more federal help for struggling homeowners, and the Times took another bite, in "McCain Shifts on Aid to Some Mortgage Holders," Friday's piece by reporter Michael Cooper:
Senator John McCain, who drew criticism last month after he warned against broad government intervention to solve the deepening mortgage crisis, pivoted Thursday and called for the federal government to aid some homeowners in danger of losing their homes, by helping them to refinance and get federally guaranteed 30-year mortgages.
"There is nothing more important than keeping alive the American dream to own your home, and priority No. 1 is to keep well-meaning, deserving homeowners who are facing foreclosure in their homes," Mr. McCain said in a speech on economic themes that he gave at a window company in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn.
Mr. McCain, an Arizona Republican, had been painted as uncaring by Democrats, and drew murmurs of concern from some Republicans, after a speech in California last month in which he cautioned that "it is not the duty of government to bail out and reward those who act irresponsibly, whether they are big banks or small borrowers," and noted that the crisis had been brought on by both lenders and borrowers.
Since then, he has gone out of his way to try to signal that he understands that times are tough and that people are hurting. His speech in Brooklyn -- which is to be followed by what aides are billing as a major economic address next week -- was a shift in tone, and part of a new effort to communicate that as president he would act to help Americans in financial distress.
"Let me make it clear," Mr. McCain said, "that in these challenging times, I am committed to using all the resources of this government and great nation to create opportunity and make sure that every deserving American has a good job and can achieve their American dream."
The mortgage plan that Mr. McCain unveiled -- which his advisers said was designed for needy homeowners, and not financial institutions -- would apply to people who were falling behind on payments on their primary residences who could show that they would be able to meet the terms of a new, 30-year fixed-rate mortgage. Mr. McCain also called for the Department of Justice to investigate the industry.
In both tone and substance, Mr. McCain's speech was a departure from the remarks he made last month in California.
The Democratic presidential candidates used that address to try to paint Mr. McCain as out of touch and uncaring; Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, who has proposed $30 billion in federal aid to states to help homeowners, said it sounded "remarkably like Herbert Hoover." But some Republicans expressed concern as well.
It's the third time the paper has replayed Hillary comparing McCain to Herbert Hoover.
Besides letting Republican Sen. Mel Martinez criticize McCain (no one criticized McCain from the right), Cooper devoted the final paragraphs of the story to Obama and Clinton's tag-team criticism, damning McCain with faint praise while saying his new turn doesn't go far enough. Cooper concluded by citing the previously disrespectable Mitt Romney suggesting McCain doesn't know much about economics.
The Democratic presidential candidates reacted dismissively on Thursday to Mr. McCain's proposal.
Senator Barack Obama of Illinois suggested in Gary, Ind., that the proposal was too tepid. It was the latest in the ever-escalating exchanges between the two senators and their campaigns.
"I'm glad he's finally offered a plan. Better late than never," Mr. Obama said. "But don't expect any real answers. Don't expect it to actually help struggling families. Because Senator McCain's solution to the housing crisis seems a lot like the George Bush solution of sitting by and hoping it passes while families face foreclosure and watch the value of their homes decline."
At a news conference in Pittsburgh, Mrs. Clinton called Mr. McCain's proposal a "warmed-over, half-hearted version of the very plan he criticized."
"Just two weeks ago, Senator McCain said he'd rather do nothing than something about the housing crisis," said Mrs. Clinton, who ran an advertisement suggesting that Mr. McCain was unprepared to handle middle-of-the-night emergency phone calls about the economy.
"Apparently, Senator McCain got the message," she said. "Letting the phone ring and ring is not the way to respond to housing crises."
Mr. McCain, who does not always sound comfortable discussing the economy, is also laboring to undo any damage from the Republican primaries, when he was accused by a fellow Republican, Mitt Romney, of not knowing much about the economy.
The quest to win the presidency at an age when he would be too old to be a commercial airline pilot or even a judge in some states has already led Mr. McCain to adopt a more grueling campaign schedule, and a more vigorous style, than several of his younger rivals.