McCain and Palin Take Their Last, Best Shots

"I'm disappointed that Paulson has not put first emphasis on buying these mortgages and keeping people in their homes"
Candidates John McCain and Sarah Palin in Hershey, PA in October Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

With just days to go before the end of the most historic and electrifying Presidential election in generations, I caught up with Senator John McCain and running mate Governor Sarah Palin in Pennsylvania, a fiercely contested battleground state. McCain was in good spirits as we met in Hershey for an interview for CNBC and BusinessWeek. He was early, and while we waited for Palin, he quipped: "Do we have a GPS on Sarah?"

MARIA BARTIROMO

Why should the American people believe the two of you can get us out of this crisis?

SENATOR JOHN McCAIN

Frankly, the Administration is not doing what I think they should do, and that's buy up these bad mortgages, give people mortgages they can afford, stabilize home values. They did that during the Depression. It was called the Home Owners' Loan Corporation.

With oil around $60 a barrel, is it still as important to become energy independent?

GOVERNOR SARAH PALIN

Now is our opportunity to seize this [moment] and invest in domestic solutions. We cannot lull ourselves into a false sense of security just because oil today is 64 bucks.

SENATOR McCAIN

Look who we're dependent on. It's a matter of national security. And by the way, nuclear power, which I'm a big proponent of, reduces greenhouse gas emissions dramatically. It's not the only answer, but building 45 nuclear power plants would create 700,000 jobs.

You want to keep taxes low, but we're spending $10 billion a month on the war in Iraq. Why not raise taxes to pay for it?

SENATOR McCAIN

Because we study history. If you practice protectionism and isolationism at the same time you raise taxes, you send an economy from a recession into a depression. That's history. The guy's name was Herbert Hoover. This is the worst time to raise anyone's taxes. [But Senator Obama] wants to, quote, "spread the wealth around."

What is wrong with the redistribution of wealth, which Obama talked about as far back as a 2001 interview?

SENATOR McCAIN

That is a bold, left-wing view of how you help people that's been tried in other countries. In America, you don't take money from one group and give it to another. You create jobs, create opportunities, and give people the ability to accumulate wealth. We have Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance. But to somehow say that when "Joe the Plumber" reaches a certain income level, we're going to take money from him and give it to somebody else, that's a fundamental contradiction of what made this country the strongest and greatest nation in the world.

GOVERNOR PALIN

We can be compassionate and generous with others without government mandating where our dollars go.

What about a minimum wage increase?

SENATOR McCAIN

As long as we take care of small business, too. Small business owners say: You increase the minimum wage, I lay off workers. Is that what we want to do right now? Of course not.

Why isn't labor's drive to abolish the secret ballot in union elections a major issue on your agenda?

SENATOR McCAIN

Unfortunately, there are [only] three or four issues you can get out strongly. But this is a threat to the fundamentals of labor-management relations…and democracy. The union organizer goes to your house and says: "Hey, Joe, can I sign you up for the union?" We all know what that opens the door to. It's dangerous for America…and small business.

Would you veto such a bill?

SENATOR McCAIN

In a New York minute.

Would you ask Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson to stay on, at least temporarily?

SENATOR McCAIN

I'm disappointed that Secretary Paulson has not put first emphasis on buying these home mortgages and keeping people in their homes. I certainly would have somebody who'd give that our highest priority.

The Treasury is investing in banks and now owns 80% of AIG. How worried are you about this path toward nationalization?

SENATOR McCAIN

I'm very worried about it. I know these are extraordinary times, but I want us out of the banking business as quickly as possible.

Don't the American people have the right to know who will be in your Cabinet? Who's going to be Treasury Secretary? Commerce Secretary? Secretary of Defense?

SENATOR McCAIN

Well, [Defense Secretary Robert] Gates has done a fabulous job. [Former eBay (EBAY) CEO] Meg Whitman is one of my most trusted advisers. Jack Welch is a great guy. I have the utmost trust and confidence in [Senator] Joe Lieberman. There are a lot of really smart people I'm proud to have around me—the kind of people you appoint who inspire trust and confidence. That's our first priority.

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