10/17/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

McCain "Slow" On Economic Crisis, Ex-Bush Appointee Says

In a further signal that the economy has become the central front of the presidential race, Barack Obama's campaign organized a Tuesday afternoon conference call for reporters that featured a Bush-appointed former Securities and Exchange chairman who offered direct criticism of John McCain's response to the current economic crisis.

William Donaldson called McCain "slow" to address the current instability. "There's evidence of a lack of prior thought," he said, adding: "The reactions from McCain have been slow in coming, and only prompted as the crisis has gotten worse." Donaldson gave the Democrat comparatively high marks for his thinking on the economic crisis gripping Wall Street. "He is ahead of the curve," Donaldson said, "not some Johnny-come-lately. ... He thought about these problems many, many months ago. If he becomes president, he will be up to speed and able to act from his own personal knowledge and study."

Donaldson, who was appointed by President George W. Bush in 2003 and served until 2005, had some positive words for McCain, however -- agreeing with the Republican nominee's assessment this afternoon that the "alphabet soup" of different agencies tasked with regulating the financial sector does evince some "turf struggle" from time to time.

But at several points during the call, Donaldson argued that Obama has the better side of the issue. He described the Democrat's proposed creation of "a standing market advisory group" -- which would provide Congress, the president and regulators with immediate risk analysis -- as a smart, immediate action that could help the government while longer-term reforms are implemented.

Also on the call was a more frequent Obama surrogate, former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, who said the next president will inherit the most dire set of economic challenges since the close of World War II.

"Markets are always driven by greed, and then by fear. There's always a cyclical element; instability is always present. ... But this is probably the most serious financial crisis since the Great Depression, in the United States," Summers said, before laying the blame for that fact at the feet of "a traditional free market Republican philosophy that at least until very recently Sen. McCain subscribed to." Summers bemoaned the policy shift from paying down debt during the Clinton administration to "building up debt" in the Bush years. "That led to huge inflows of capital from China and other markets, that blew up the bubbles that ultimately burst and created the financial instability that we're trying to work out way through."

Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton also jumped on the call to take advantage of a breaking development on MSNBC. Referencing an appearance by Carly Fiorina in which the McCain adviser said "I don't think John McCain could run a major corporation," Burton said "If John McCain's top economic adviser doesn't think he's qualified to run a company, how on Earth can he run the largest economy in the world in the midst of a financial crisis? Apparently even the people who run his campaign agree that the economy is an issue John McCain doesn't understand as well as he should."