John McCain on Thursday found yet another way to separate himself from President Bush, this time by throwing fellow Republican Christopher Cox under his Straight Talk Express for not regulating Wall Street enough as chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.
“The chairman of the SEC serves at the appointment of the president and, in my view, has betrayed the public’s trust,” Mr. McCain, now losing ground in some polls to Barack Obama, told a Cedar Rapids rally in Iowa. “If I were president today, I would fire him.”
Quickly responding, White House press secretary Dana Perino said Mr. Cox has Mr. Bush’s confidence.
Mr. Cox, 55, was a sometimes-favorite of conservatives during his 16 years as a U.S. House member from Southern California before Mr. Bush named him to the SEC in 2005.
The question is this: Is there any sound policy behind Mr. McCain’s unloading on Mr. Cox? Or is it presidential election politics, pure and simple?
Rather than answering the question, reaction in Mr. McCain’s own party was conflicted, going off in different directions simultaneously as Republicans attempted to reinforce the maverick image of their standard bearer while showing partisan loyalty to Mr. Cox - and to the Bush presidency, which is in the midst of writing its last chapters.
“Chris Cox is the most capable person I’ve ever known,” James C. Miller III, director of the Office of Management and Budget in the second Reagan White House, told The Washington Times. “I wish Senator McCain would focus on the getting President Bush’s other appointees to the SEC confirmed by the Senate.”
But other Republicans offered the predictable swell of contradictory populist sentiment for “taking action,” finding a scapegoat (however implausible) and letting capitalism be capitalism - letting the markets sort it all out.
“I sure think Cox needs to do some answering to Congress,” said Rep. John Mica, Florida Republican. “One of the things I heard from my constituents is they want somebody held responsible for the collapse of some of these markets - and executives walking way from Fannie Mae and others with tens of millions of dollars.”
Speculators and “short sellers” - an integral part of the operation of free markets - once again have become the evildoers who were allowed to do their worst because lazy or industry-influenced regulators let them get away with it.
“Banks and brokers took on huge amounts of debt, and they hid the riskiest of all investments,” Mr. McCain said. “Mismanagement and greed became the operating standard while regulators were asleep at the switch. The regulators were asleep, my friends, they were not working for you.”
The first casualty was pretty clearly Mr. Cox.
“I don’t know whether firing Cox is called for, but if I were Chris, I think I would be circulating some resumes,” Mr. Mica said, then turned his fire on the other side of he aisle. “Democrats are supposed to be bigger regulators. Last time I checked, Bush hasn’t had a vote on floor for the last 18 months - Democrats have controlled the process.”
Mr. Miller said Mr. Cox had been forced to operate without other Senate-confirmed members of his commission for some time. “Chris heads a commission, not a dictatorship, and for a time was without a quorum for a long time,” he said.