Out of bounds! McCain stretches definition of 'fundamentals'

McClatchy NewspapersSeptember 16, 2008 

Throw the flag against: John McCain.

Call: False start.

What happened: Republican presidential nominee McCain said Monday, as financial markets were reeling, "The fundamentals of our economy are strong, but these are very, very difficult times."

The Obama campaign said that the comment showed that McCain was out of touch.

Asked to explain his statement Tuesday morning on NBC, McCain said: "Well, it's obviously true that the workers of America are the fundamentals of our economy and our strength and our future. And I believe in the American worker."

Why that's wrong: Economists, politicians and journalists have long referred to economic "fundamentals" as quantifiable concepts, such as unemployment rates, gross domestic product, inflation, productivity and so forth.

Moreover, in their widely used textbook, "Economics," Paul Samuelson and William Nordhaus titled their first chapter "The Fundamentals of Economics," and noted that "Every society must answer three fundamental questions: what, how, and for whom? What kinds and quantities are produced among the wide range of all possible goods and services? How are resources used in producing these goods? And for whom are the goods produced (that is, what is the distribution of income and consumption among different individuals and classes)?"

Note the absence of "workers."

McCain's attempt to stretch the word "fundamentals" into a synonym for "workers" is a stretch too far.

Penalty: Penalize his credibility five yards.

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