What makes it odd is [McCain's economics advisers] aren't like each other at all, at least when it comes to their economic views. A couple of them, if you put them in the same room, would set off an intergalactic explosion like the collision of matter and antimatter.
One adviser, Jack Kemp, is the man who talked Ronald Reagan into embracing supply side economics in the 1970s, which launched the Reagan boom of the 1980s. He's the world's bubbliest advocate of tax cuts, dismissing the traditional Republican fixation on balanced budgets as "root canal" economics. Another adviser, Peter Peterson, is root canal economics. He's a dour Jeremiah who called the Reagan boom a "mad, drunken bash" and thinks steep tax increases on income, gasoline, tobacco, and alcohol, on top of a 5 percent consumption tax, are necessary to put the government's finances in order. He and Rudman run the Concord Coalition, an advocacy group that regards the federal government's budget deficit as the country's foundational economic problem.
Under the right circumstances, having advisors from competing schools of thought would probably be an asset. I would like to see the next president hear a take from the labor-liberal side of things and the neoliberal Bob Rubin school before making a major decision. Indeed, it would probably be smart to run things by some smart people from all the way on the other side of the political spectrum. The best policies can often secure support from a variety of different perspectives, and certainly complicated undertakings tend to be improved by accepting some critical input. The trouble is that to make something like this work you need the person in charge to actually be capable of assessing different kinds of advice and ironing them into something resembling a coherent policy and there's little in McCain's background to suggest that he has any idea of how to season a policy with a touch of Kemp and a dollop of Peterson.
Under the circumstances, someone or other is likely to emerge as the main driving force behind a McCain administration, just as George W. Bush turned out to be 98 percent Cheney/Rumsfeld and only 2 percent Powell/Armitage, but there's no way for we the voters to predict in advance. Just as with McCain's general ideological meandering, we're left to take on faith that his personal powers of Straight Talkiness should give us reassurance that he'll do the right thing even though he can't communicate any kind of remotely clear vision of what the right thing is.