McCain gets the raspberry over the BlackBerry

So by now, Everyone knows Senator John McCain invented the BlackBerry. Or that he says he did. Or that someone on his campaign says he did, which is practically the same thing. This is politics after all. The "NY Times" has a pretty thorough account -- including CONTEXT! -- of what unfolded earlier today when McCain economic advisor Douglas Holtz-Eakin was talking to reporters about the senator's ideas on the financial turmoil on Wall Street. According to the Times, the advisor was asked what McCain had done on the commerce committee that would show Americans he understands financial markets. Holtz-Eakin pointed out first that McCain didn't have jurisdiction over financial markets. Then, according to the Times, he went on: “But he did this," he said, holding up what looked like a BlackBerry. “The telecommunications of the United States, the premier innovation of the past 15 years, comes right through the commerce committee. So you’re looking at the miracle that John McCain helped create. And that’s what he did." Assuming this is accurate, any fair reading would be that Holtz-Eakin was using his smartphone as a kind of symbol or emblem to summarize the "creative destruction" we've witnessed in telecommunications for a decade and a half. "He did this" refers not to McCain tinkering with a CPU and ROM chips and some fancy software programming, but to his basic orientation toward markets, and probably (presumably) to specific, relevant bills that McCain sponsored or voted for. I'm not a student of McCain's commerce committee tenure, so I can't say if the aid's claim is really justified. McCain leaves emailing to others (his wife Cindy is a BlackBerry user apparently), a fact that the Obama campaign, apparently believing this shows how tough they can be, has made the cornerstone of a new attack ad. Sort of riffing Hilary Clinton: "When that BlackBerry email arrives at 3 a.m., whose thumbs do you want on the keypad buttons?" But according to this 2000 story in Forbes, McCain actually is (or at least was in 2000) an email "devotee." Forbes: "In certain ways, McCain was a natural Web candidate. Chairman of the Senate Telecommunications Subcommittee and regarded as the U.S. Senate's savviest technologist, McCain is an inveterate devotee of email. His nightly ritual is to read his email together with his wife, Cindy. The injuries he incurred as a Vietnam POW make it painful for McCain to type. Instead, he dictates responses that his wife types on a laptop. "She's a whiz on the keyboard, and I'm so laborious," McCain admits." What's more, according to the same story, McCain's campaign "Web team had played the Internet like a Stradivari." An AP story reports McCain "laughed" when told he was credited with creating the BlackBerry. Which is a sensible and sane reaction. But the Obama campaign was not amused. Campaign spokesman Bill Burton said the claim-that-was-not-made was "preposterous." And the only thing more preposterous, according to Burton, was McCain's comments earlier this week on the Wall Street mess. “If John McCain hadn’t said that ‘the fundamentals of our economy are strong’ on the day of one of our nation’s worst financial crises, the claim that he invented the BlackBerry would have been the most preposterous thing said all week,” Burton said. The problem with Burton's comment is that he doesn't seem to understand that there's a difference between the financial system and the economic system. They are not one and undivided. They are two, separate, and related, as this trenchant analysis, by a pair of economists at First Trust Advisors, makes clear: "The key thing to remember here is that the emphasis belongs on the word financial. These financial market problems are not a result of widespread economic weakness, otherwise known as a recession. In fact, real GDP has grown 2.2% in the past year and accelerated to a 3.3% annualized growth rate in the second quarter. The economy is not taking down investment banks; lousy lending standards and the excessive use of leverage are taking down investment banks." Maybe someone could email that to Bill Burton's BlackBerry. If he has one....

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