Spreading a wealth of criticism

Reston and Mehta are Times staff writers.

Addressing a boisterous crowd in eastern Pennsylvania, John McCain said Monday that Barack Obama wanted to be “Redistributionist in Chief,” putting a new twist on his warning that the Democrat intends to “spread the wealth around,” as he told Joe the Plumber.

McCain’s new turn-of-phrase came after his campaign unearthed an obscure, 7-year-old radio interview in which Obama discussed the issue of wealth distribution as it related to the Supreme Court and its decisions under Chief Justice Earl Warren.

“He is more interested in controlling wealth than in creating it,” McCain said. “Sen. Obama is running to spread the wealth; I’m running to create more wealth. Sen. Obama is running to punish the successful; I’m running to make everyone successful.”


The candidates campaigned Monday in the same crucial states, Ohio and Pennsylvania, but not in the same cities. Obama has a clear lead in the polls in Pennsylvania but a narrow one in Ohio, which has voted for the winner in every presidential election since 1964.

At the civic center in Canton, Ohio, Obama told about 5,000 people that the Arizona senator has spent the last weeks attacking him because his campaign had run dry.

“If you can’t beat your opponent’s ideas, you distort those ideas and maybe make some up. If you don’t have a record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone people should run away from,” Obama said. “Ohio, we are here to say, not this time, not this year, not when so much is at stake. Sen. McCain might be worried about losing an election, but I’m worried about Americans who are losing their homes, and their jobs and their life savings.”

Obama’s speech, billed as his “closing argument” to voters, contained no new ideas but seemed designed to portray the Illinois senator as a statesman who would rise above petty politics. It was characterized by lofty language delivered with a preacher’s cadence.

“The American story has never been about things coming easy. It’s been about rising to the moment when the moment was hard. It’s about seeing the highest mountaintop from the deepest of valleys,” he said. “That’s how we’ve overcome war and depression. That’s how we’ve won great struggles for civil rights and women’s rights and worker’s rights. That’s how we’ll emerge from this crisis stronger and more prosperous than we were before -- as one nation and as one people.”

He harked back to the start of his campaign nearly two years ago, saying, “We weren’t given much of a chance by the polls or the pundits, and we knew how steep our climb would be.” His success, he said, reflected a desire for change.

“I believed,” he said, “that Democrats and Republicans and Americans of every political stripe were hungry for new ideas, new leadership.”

Obama appeared later in Pittsburgh, where he told a crowd of 16,000 that President Bush’s policies had undermined the nation’s common purpose, harmed its economy and diminished its standing in the world. “What we have lost in these last eight years cannot be measured by lost wages, it can’t just be measured by a bigger trade deficit,” he said.

McCain’s latest salvo was drawn from a 2001 comment Obama, then a state senator and law-school lecturer, made in an interview.

Obama had said he thought one of the “tragedies” of the civil rights movement was that “there was a tendency to lose track of the political and community organizing and activities on the ground that are able to put together the actual coalitions of power through which you bring about redistributive change.”

McCain linked the interview to Obama’s plan to raise taxes on households earning more than $250,000 a year (which would also cut taxes on middle-class families).

Obama spokesman Bill Burton dismissed McCain’s new offensive as an “11th-hour distraction” and as “a fake news controversy drummed up by the all-too-common alliance of Fox News, the Drudge Report and John McCain, who apparently decided to close out his campaign with the same false, desperate attacks that have failed for months.”

Earlier Monday in Cleveland and Kettering, Ohio, McCain sought to reassure Americans of his grasp of economic issues, an area where he trails Obama in the polls.

“I have been through tough times like this before, and the American people can trust me based on my record and results -- to take strong action to end this crisis, restore jobs and bring security to Americans,” McCain said, after a strategy session with some of his top economic advisors, including former EBay Chief Executive Meg Whitman, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former New York Rep. Jack Kemp.

During his stops in Ohio and later in Pottsville, Pa., McCain pounded on Obama’s proposal to roll back the Bush tax cuts for the top income brackets.

Flanked by the advisors, he told a small group of supporters in Cleveland that Obama’s plan would “destroy business growth, kill jobs, and lead to continued declines in the stock market and make a recession even deeper and more painful.”

McCain drew his largest and most enthusiastic crowd in Pennsylvania -- one of the few blue states where his campaign is still on offense. At a gymnasium packed with several thousand people, he was greeted by red and blue disco lights and “Top Gun’s” theme song “Danger Zone.”


Maeve Reston reporting from pottsville, pa.,

Seema Mehta reporting from canton, ohio