WASHINGTON – Sometimes it’s hard to tell when John McCain is joking.
 
Take his interview Tuesday with journalists at The Des Moines Register.
 
The Republican presidential candidate acknowledged the financial bailout measure before Congress was not perfect, but he said it was unacceptable to do nothing and admonished lawmakers for failing to pass a rescue plan.
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Then, without cracking a smile or missing a beat, he added this little nugget: “I’m not saying this is the perfect answer. If I were dictator, which I always aspire to be, I would write it … a little bit differently.”
 
With the Treasury secretary likely to have a huge amount of power under any bailout scheme, McCain was asked what sort of person he was looking for to fill that job. He said Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson had been doing admirably.
 
“I think a person along Paulson’s lines,” McCain said. Given the fragility of Wall Street, he added, any candidate “probably has to have a sound grounding in the financial markets and that aspect of America’s economy.”
 
The Arizona senator said if elected he would recruit the brightest and the best for his Cabinet, Democrat or Republican, in government or in business.
 
“I’ll go out and ask them to serve the country for a dollar a year,” he said.
 
He mused aloud about who might be enticed into government service: billionaire Iowa businessman Warren Buffett, eBay founder Meg Whitman, or Fed-Ex chief Fred Smith.
 

McCain strongly objected when a questioner suggested his running mate, Sarah Palin, was not as experienced as others he named as potential government servants.
 
“She’s been a mayor. She’s been an overseer of billions — I don’t know how many billions of dollars of natural resources. She’s been a member of the PTA (Parent Teacher Association). She’s been a governor,” McCain said.
 
He express skepticism when told many people, including now some conservative Republicans, questioned her level of experience.
 
“Really? I haven’t detected that,” he said.
 
“Now, if there’s a Georgetown cocktail party person who quote calls himself a conservative and doesn’t like her, good luck, good luck, fine,” McCain added.
 
“I think that the American people have overwhelmingly shown their approval. Are there people who will be detractors of her? That’s fine. That’s fine. That’s what politics is all about.”

Click here for more Reuters 2008 campaign coverage.

Photo credit: Reuters/Brian Snyder (McCain speaks at Truman Presidential Library  in Independence, Missouri, on Wednesday)