It was the kind of statement that can come to define a campaign, the way that John Kerry's "I voted for the bill before I voted against it," launched a thousand jokes by late-night talk show hosts.
Sen. John McCain, in response to a question by a reporter as to how many houses he owns, stumbled over the answer. "I think -- I'll have my staff get to you," McCain said.
Say what? He needs staff to tell him how many houses he owns?
Before the day was out, the Obama campaign had an ad on the air. "Maybe you're struggling, just to pay the mortgage on your home," the ad said. "When McCain was asked how many houses he owned, McCain lost track. ... Well, it's seven. Seven houses."Actually, by some reports, it's eight. But hey, who's counting? Certainly not Honorable John. He has staff for that. See? The jokes just write themselves.
The McCain campaign's response was ham-handed and clichéd, even for them:
"Does a guy who made more than $4 million last year, just got back from vacation on a private beach in Hawaii and bought his own million-dollar mansion with the help of a convicted felon really want to get into a debate about houses? Does a guy who worries about the price of arugula and thinks regular people "cling" to guns and religion in the face of economic hardship really want to have a debate about who's in touch with regular Americans?"
Well, no, Senator, they actually don't, but your people keep bringing up this "elitism" stuff and intimating that you're a regular guy while Obama drinks latte and eats arugula, thus making him somehow unfit to govern regular folk. I guess they thought they'd just take that mallet and whack you on the head with it for a change, seeing as how you handed it to them on a silver platter and all.
These constant references to arugula and latte, by the way, are a staple of Republican sneers these days. Well, I've got news for you, Mr. Fancy Pants McCain spokesman: You can get latte in at least two coffee shops right here in good old Carthage, N.C., and if you look at the ingredients in a McDonald's side salad, you'll find that they include baby red Swiss chard, radicchio and yes, even the dread arugula. Heck, you can even get arugula at Wal-Mart.
Of course, I reckon that a guy with seven houses (or is it eight?) doesn't do his grocery shopping at Wal-Mart, eat many McDonald's meals or have a latte in a small town like ours, so he doesn't know that we regular folks aren't afraid of a little arugula. Jeez, those Republicans must think we're all hicks or something.
Then the McCainiacs forgot the Rule of Holes: When you find yourself in a hole, quit digging. "The reality," McCain spokesman Brian Rogers said, "is they have some investment properties and stuff. It's not as if he lives in 10 houses. That's just not the case. The reality is they have four that actually could be considered houses they could use."
Oh, well then. McCain's a real everyday Joe then. He "only" has four houses he can actually live in. And two of those, according to Cindy McCain, are beach houses. They had to buy another one, you see, because the kids were using the first one so much you just couldn't get into it.
Here's a hint, Mr. Rogers: Anyone who can say "only four houses and the rest are investment properties" with a straight face has lost the right to call anyone an elitist and out of touch.
Finally, the McCain campaign decided to make it all about McCain's experience as a POW 40 years ago. It used to be that McCain and the people around him claimed that he didn't like to talk about the experience. But you sure couldn't tell it from the way they bring it up now at every opportunity.
The Obama people make fun of McCain for not knowing how many houses he has? Well, back in Hanoi, he didn't even HAVE a house, so there! When Joe Biden talked about ordinary people sitting around their kitchen table worrying, then joked that McCain's biggest worry is which of his seven kitchen tables he'd be sitting at, the McCain campaign shot back that in the POW camp, McCain didn't even HAVE a table, so there!
All due respect to Sen. McCain's service, but it's starting to get ludicrous. Pretty soon we can expect stuff like "Obama criticizes McCain's energy policy? Well, McCain didn't even HAVE a car when he was a POW, so there!"
Of course, when you really have nothing new to offer, I guess talking about the time you were a hero in the '60s seems like a good idea. After all, it worked so well for John Kerry.