Hearing John McCain say that Security and Exchange Commission Chairman Christopher Cox should be fired over the nation's financial crisis is a bit like shooting a sergeant to punish General Custer's mistake.
It's not that Cox doesn't bear some responsibility. He and other high-ranking federal officials could have done far more to loudly warn Congress, the president and the public that banks were becoming mired in exotic financial products far beyond regulators' ability to control.
Even The Wall Street Journal's editorial writers drew attention to Sen. McCain's itchy trigger finger. Of McCain's intemperance, the WSJ wrote: "Wow. 'Betrayed the public's trust.' Was Mr. Cox dishonest? No. He merely changed some minor rules, and didn't change others, on short-selling. String him up! We know Mr. McCain needs to distance himself from the Bush Administration. But this highly personal assault on Mr. Cox is both false and deeply unfair. It's also un-Presidential."
The fact of the matter is that McCain's own chief economic adviser, ex-Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas, was the primary architect of legislation that erased many banking rules. Closely allied with those who made fortunes from America's anything-goes regulatory environment, it was Gramm who set this crazy game in motion.
McCain shuffled Gramm off to one side after Gramm infamously dismissed U.S. economic woes by calling us a "nation of whiners." But have no doubt about it: Gramm remains a key member of McCain's kitchen cabinet. Even now, it would come as no surprise if McCain named Gramm to some key post if voters give Republicans a chance to form a renewed administration in this November's election.
Furthermore, McCain himself supported many of the legal changes that downgraded our financial system from one of caution and conservatism to the wild one that has landed us in so much trouble. Far from being a maverick outsider, McCain and his allies are the very people who blithely went along with the plundering of our financial system.
So sure, fire Cox. But let's not make the mistake of also hiring McCain and Gramm to fix the horrible mess they've gotten us into.