Heather Higgins

In the wake of financial upheaval, McCain’s prospects have plummeted. The campaign’s response has not helped – erratic, desperate to get this behind them, and, if the Biden-Palin debate is a harbinger, blaming Wall Street greed as the cause of all that ails. In short, the Obama approach.

That tack is a missed opportunity. Much as the rise in oil prices permitted the McCain campaign and House Republicans to force the issue of drilling, and differentiate themselves from Washington interest groups politics as usual, the continuing crisis on Wall Street allows McCain to solidify his image as a leader who recognizes what Washington can—and shouldn’t—do.

We’d been told that we wanted change from President Bush and all things Republican. But to argue that was to willfully disregard the even more dismal disapproval of the Congress, and the media itself, who have fallen a long way in our national regard from the days of Cronkite-like esteem.

In fact, the desired change was from “business as usual” among our self-styled elites. That giant lack of confidence was again stunningly signaled with the public backlash to the bailout bill, despite the fact that all of the Washington establishment and elite media demanded it. We don’t trust our leaders any more, and as markets are showing, perhaps with good reason.

It is that void of trust that McCain needs to fill. In Tuesday’s debate, and again and again in the month to follow, McCain needs to contrast the man of action v. the lawyer, and the track record of correct judgment v. votes and associations that are simply too radical for comfort.

But beyond that, the McCain campaign should not expect to “put this financial issue” behind them. Rather they need to break out that economic straight talk express and articulate a principled vision for the role of government in our financial sector.

First, McCain needs to state clearly that, when it comes to the current mess, there is plenty of blame to go around. It isn’t just Wall St. greed, though that surely played a significant part, but also Washington’s establishment that created the environment that allowed bad business practices to flourish.

Sen. Dodd and Cong. Frank should be brought to task for combining the implied government backing of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac with a repeated refusal to regulate them more stringently, and for pushing legislation and regulations which lowered credit standards at community banks and helped shift the entire mortgage market culture.

Heather Higgins

Heather R. Higgins is the president and CEO of Independent Women’s Voice (IWV). Hadley Heath Manning is senior policy analyst at IWV.