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

Reid, Dems Go For McCain's Jugular

Democrats, going after John McCain and the GOP jugular, are launching a coordinated attack over the economy, painting the current administration as the worst since Herbert Hoover and declaring that the Republican nominee represents a steady continuation of those failed policies.

The language is at times personal and cutting, with many of the party leaders echoing some of the same attacks that Barack Obama has levied this past week. It is a coordinated message that many activists and operatives have been pining for over the last several months.

"One Senator -- John McCain -- woke up yesterday morning, surveyed the state of the U.S. economy, summoned the ghost of his fellow Republican, Herbert Hoover, and declared, 'The fundamentals of our economy are strong,'" said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, before laying responsibility for the current woes in part on McCain's economic adviser Phil Gramm.

"I served with Phil Gramm here in the Senate," he said. "The same Phil Gramm who, as a Senator, was responsible for the deregulation of the financial services industry that paved the way for much of this crisis to occur. I like Phil Gramm, I don't like his economics. A respected economist at the University of Texas -- now that's where Phil Gramm taught, in Texas -- a respected economist at the University of Texas, James Galbraith said that Gramm was, and I quote, 'the most aggressive advocate of every predatory and rapacious element that the financial sector has,' and went on to say he is a 'sorcerer's apprentice of instability and disaster in the financial system.'"

Indeed, even as McCain has refined his comments from yesterday and adopted a far more populist, raging-at-the-gates approach to the financial crisis, other Democratic leaders stuck to the script, tearing into the GOP nominee in true populist form.

"Since President Bush has been in office, median income for working-aged Americans has gone down by over $2,000 after adjusting for inflation. Family income is going down. People are spending more for food," said Sen. Bernie Sanders. "The cost of gas, of course, is now off the wall. College education costs are up. How does that sound like a situation in which 'the fundamentals of our economy are strong,' according to Senator McCain? And the confusion in all of this is pretty easily understood.

"The truth is," Sanders continued, "that the fundamentals of our economy are strong if you are within the top 1 percent of our country. If you're a million or billionaire, you know what, Senator McCain is right. For those people, the fundamentals of the economy are strong."

With the economy struggling and with pocket book issues likely to decide the election, Democrats are clearly coalescing around a message. But much of their success will be determined by how well they can tie the Republican presidential nominee to the departing president. McCain, to the best of his abilities, is trying to avoid the label, even ringing an outside-Washington tone while on the stump.

"If Governor Palin and I are elected in 49 days, we are not going to waste a moment in changing the way Washington does business," he declared today. "And we're going to start where the need for reform is greatest. In short order, we are going put an end to the reckless conduct, corruption, and unbridled greed that have caused a crisis on Wall Street. The working people of this state and this nation are the most innovative, the hardest working, the best skilled, most productive, most competitive in the world. This foundation of our economy, the American worker, is strong but it has been put at risk by the greed and mismanagement of Wall Street and Washington. The top of our economy is broken. We have seen self-interest, greed, irresponsibility and corruption undermine the hard work of the American people. It is time to set things right, and I promise to get the job done as your president."

But it is an uphill battle and much of it is out of his hands. As the financial and stock markets continue to struggle, Democrats have an effective, substantive talking point, one to hang over the head of any Republican, let alone the GOP's White House hopeful. Bush's shadow, indeed, may ultimately be too hard to escape.

"Under the Bush administration over the last seven years, families' pockets have been picked at the grocery store, the gas pump, and each time they make their home energy, healthcare, and mortgage payments," said Sen. Chuck Schumer. "The Bush administration has presided over an unprecedented middle class economic squeeze -- household living expenses have more than doubled, while incomes have actually shrunk."

UPDATE: The DNC, not surprisingly is jumping on board as well, releasing a web ad that touches on many of the same themes that Reid, Obama and Sanders addressed as well.