September 4, 2008 Editorial Running Against Themselves Three days into the Republican National Convention, it is clear that the G.O.P. has settled on a message: âWashington is not working.â The phrase is included in virtually every speech and every statement in St Paul. We agree completely that Washington is in desperate need of renewal and reform. Weâre not even going to quibble about the fact that Barack Obama said it first. The problem is that American voters have yet to hear â from John McCain or his warm-up acts â any serious ideas on what, exactly, is wrong with Washington, apart from the fact that a Democrat might win the White House, never mind how to truly fix it. The difficulty for the Republican ticket in talking about change and reform and acting like insurgents is that they have been running Washington â the White House and Congress â for most of the last eight years. Sarah Palin, the vice presidential nominee, was a combative and witty relief at a torpid convention. But it was bizarre hearing the running mate of a 26-year veteran of Congress, a woman who was picked to placate the right-wing elite, mocking âthe permanent political establishment in Washington.â And we couldnât imagine what Mitt Romney was thinking when he denounced âliberal Washingtonâ and then, at the convention of the party that brought you unimpeded presidential spying, declared: âItâs time for the party of big ideas, not the party of Big Brother!â As hard as he tries, Mr. McCain cannot escape the burdensome shadow of President Bush because his policies offer no real change. On the all-important issue of the economy, Mr. McCain has no prescription for ending the mortgage-driven crisis or for fixing the huge fiscal problems Mr. Bush has bequeathed the nation. He wants to make even deeper cuts in corporate taxes, eliminate the alternative minimum income tax and make permanent the Bush tax cuts that vastly favor the wealthy and that he once correctly opposed. His only idea for balancing the budget seems to be controlling earmarks, which Republicans now denounce with the sort of single-minded fervor they used to reserve for Democratic-appointed judges. Permanently extending the tax cuts would reduce tax revenue by $1 trillion over four years. If Mr. McCain eliminated every earmark (including money for the gas pipeline that Ms. Palin wants to build in Alaska), the savings would total about $18 billion a year. He hasnât offered any idea of where heâll get the rest of the money. He has not explained how he plans to rein in out-of-control financial firms and avoid a repeat of the mortgage disaster. Mr. Bushâs ideological opposition to sound government regulation is in large measure to blame for the economic crisis, but when Mr. McCain talks about fixing Washington, that subject never comes up. Mr. McCain also has yet to explain to voters how he intends to go on paying for the war in Iraq â and also fix a dangerously stretched and overburdened military. Mr. McCain talks about energy independence. But his primary solution is not a solution: drilling and more drilling. Mr. McCain says he is the candidate who will better protect the country from terrorism. But about all he has to offer is his pledge to continue the war in Iraq. We have yet to hear an explanation for how he plans to do that while also salvaging the war in Afghanistan â the real front line in the war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Now that everyone agrees that Washington needs fixing, we hope Mr. McCain will offer more than partisan boilerplate when he addresses the convention on Thursday night.