Obama, McCain & the Economic Crisis

by Rick Rockwell

Voters in the tony suburbs that circle the beltway of what would be the capital of the world are worried. They are worried now that their chosen candidate Barack Obama won’t be able to deliver on his promise of change, because the Republicans have saddled the country with perhaps the worst financial crisis in almost 80 years.

Worse. They have a second nightmare creeping into their psyches: after a week of maneuvering by John McCain, their candidate Sen. Obama (D-IL) won’t win because the rest of the country will decide to move to a candidate with more experience and more connections.

The polls after the first debate should have staunched those fears, as many believe Obama bested McCain. But perhaps they are concerned because for whatever reasons the political polls have been entirely unreliable during this election cycle. The chatter in the suburbs after the debate was filled with those fears.

Fear, as we know, comes from what we don’t know. And in these perilous economic times, fear abounds, because even the so-called experts either haven’t been shooting straight with the rest of us or they also have gaps in their knowledge but won’t admit it. What this crisis has revealed is the Wall Street shell game is over, at least for a little while. Until the rules are reset.

That’s what has the Obamaniacs worried. Right now, their candidate doesn’t seem to be the one who is having much of an impact on the $700 billion bailout. And they are reading daily in The Washington Post about how Sen. McCain (R-AZ) threw his considerable weight around the capital last week and stopped what many voters saw as a deal that rewarded the corrupt bankers. Unbelievably, it took Obama until the eve of the debate to figure out what populist language to adopt and to blast the bailout fashioned by the banking industry’s protectors in the administration of George W. Bush.

But McCain had to be prodded into action too. His aides also read The Post, and believe polls or not, the headlines at mid-week were all about how Obama was erasing the Republican convention bounce because of his image on the economy. (How Obama has any image on the economy as a Senator and legislator who has little to no record in the economic arena is amazing, but more on that later.)

So McCain threw himself into a week doing what he does best politically: throwing the long bomb. Cynical, self-serving or not, McCain’s so-called “suspension” of his campaign (which didn’t amount to anything because the financial crisis wasn’t solved and there he was debating Obama) focused media attention on his actions. Obama may have been on the phone to Sen. Chris Dodd, one of the Democrats walking point on this issue (and now isn’t Dodd, who was once a presidential candidate looking more like the better vice presidential pick) long before McCain’s grandstanding. Obama may have been at that economic summit meeting at the White House. But McCain was the one stealing the headlines. By carrying the views of disaffected Republicans in Congress to his party’s caucus that was coalescing behind Bush’s plan, McCain stopped a bad bailout in its tracks.

Granted, neither candidate wanted to discuss much of the details of how to deal with the financial mess during the debate. After much pressing by moderator Jim Lehrer, McCain finally suggested a freeze on all government spending except for defense, veterans affairs, and entitlement programs (such as Medicaid and social security). McCain also suggested “scrubbing” government accounts looking to eliminate waste, including taking a strong look at Pentagon spending. Although bereft of an overall plan, Obama belittled those ideas as using “a hatchet when you need a scalpel.” However, that comment may reveal how much Obama does not know about the monumental task ahead.

The truth is neither of these candidates is the right one for the dire economic straits the country faces. McCain may have a record of fiscal discipline, but he has not been a leader on budget issues beyond his desire to eliminate Congressional pork-barrel spending. No, McCain and Obama are the candidates who the country picked to discuss the Iraq War. Or to discuss generational change. Or reform in Washington. They are not the right candidates to handle the huge financial mess. This is the problem with the current election system in the U.S. that forces candidates to start running two years before they will hold office. We have the candidates perfect for two years ago. Not for now.

So hunker down. It won’t matter which of the major candidates wins. The next four years are going to be very painful. But few are willing to say that, when the watchword for this election is “hope.”

For more background on the 2008 campaign, please see these archival posts:

(Political graphic by AZRainman. To see more of AZRainman's work, please check out his blog.)

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