Maddocks: McCain vows to make country worse

Philip Maddocks

Repudiating remarks made by his Democratic rivals in the presidential race, Republican candidate John McCain told a crowd at a campaign stop in Purgatory, Maine, that he wouldn’t just continue the failed policies of George W. Bush, he would make them worse.

"Contrary to what my Democratic opponents are saying, I will take the country in  the wrong direction — to the gates of hell, if necessary," McCain told a group of supporters decked out in "Straight Talk is Hell" T-shirts.

"Mr. Obama is now saying that I would be better for the country than George Bush. Do you believe that?

As people in the crowd shouted, "No!" Mr. McCain added, "Mrs. Clinton is now saying Senator McCain would follow the same failed policies laid out by the current president. Does that sound right to you?

"We need a president who will take this country in an even more wrong direction, not cheer it on, and I will be that president."

Later, aboard his Straight Talk Express bus, Mr. McCain explained that the country is in such bad shape that it would be foolhardy to try to get it back on track. The only sensible answer, he said, was to keep taking it in a worse direction, adding he was prepared to do that even if it took 100 years.

Barack Obama, speaking to reporters in between a taping  session for new television commercials, said he stood by his remarks about McCain.

"I may have misspoke when I said that John McCain would be better than George Bush," Mr. Obama said. "But I am not going to be goaded into saying he will be worse than George Bush. Those are Senator McCain’s words, not mine."

 "John McCain and I have some deep differences on where he is and where he needs to go. We can’t afford to have four more years without my policies," Obama added.

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, speaking at a campaign rally, repeated Mr. Obama’s remark to the crowd that greeted her outside a hardware store in rural Pennsylvania.

"Senator Obama said today that John McCain would be better for the country than George Bush," Mrs. Clinton said. "If by better, my Democratic opponent means worse, then I think he is mistaken and is no better or worse than John McCain or George Bush."

Mrs. Clinton said her struggling campaign has shown she is the only candidate capable of appealing to the wider electorate by taking good ideas and making them seem bad.

"That’s what the American people want to hear, and I will be ready on day one to give it to them," she said.

Mr. McCain acknowledged that "things were bad enough," but he insisted that under his leadership they would get even worse and challenged reporters to name one area of domestic or international unrest that he couldn’t make worse..

"I have a worse understanding than either of my opponents about economic issues, the nature of world terrorism, and how to fundraise," he argued, "so tell me which one of us is the worst candidate, most capable of taking the country in a worse direction?"

Telegraphing a general election message, he seized a criticism made by Mr. Obama to make a point that while Americans have suffered under the current administration’s stewardship of the economy, there was still room for more hardship.

"My opponent has pointed out, quite correctly, that since George Bush took office, we have gone through the first period of sustained economic growth since World War II that saw incomes drop; we have 11 million more Americans who don’t have health care; 2 million more Americans who are out of work; millions of families who are facing foreclosure, the poverty rate has gone up, and you are working harder for less, but we can — we have to — do worse. Doing better is not an option. Now is not the time to cut and run from our troubles."

McCain vowed he would "do whatever it takes to bring this country to its knees and keep it falling forward."

"That’s leadership, not empty promises," McCain said. "And when it all comes crashing down around us, my friends, I promise to keep the government out of your lives."

Philip Maddocks can be reached at