Now that the press has settled down from the media bonanzas in Denver and St Paul, and now that Sarah Palin's celebrity and novelty are starting to wear thin, the campaign season is beginning in earnest. Finally, amid the partisan squabbling, finger-pointing, and name-calling, Americans have a moment to talk about the issues.
Chief among them, if the most recent polling is to be trusted, is the economy. Government bail-outs of Fannie May and Freddie Mac as well as massive loans to both AIG and (indirectly) Lehman Brothers – all to the tune of several hundred billion of your tax dollars – have put the economy front and center in the race for the Presidency. John McCain looks – understandably – nervous.
This is, after all, the second major banking bailout that John McCain has witnessed. The first was the Savings and Loans crisis of the 1980s and 1990s, a 160.1 Billion dollar disaster that also landed McCain before the Senate Ethics Committee under charges of interfering with a Federal Home Loan Bank Board investigation of Charles Keating's failed Lincoln Savings and Loan Association.
The Ethics Committee found McCain guilty only of having exercised "poor judgment," and, to his credit, McCain changed his ways, becoming a champion of campaign finance reform and collaborating with Senator Russ Feingold on the McCain/Feingold Campaign Finance Reform Bill.
Even so, it wasn't long before John McCain's "poor judgment" on issues economic was evident again.
Last week, in the span of a few hours, John McCain had what Senator Joe Biden called "an epiphany;" he finally realized the US Economy was (and is) in crisis. Was it the buyout of Merrill Lynch for pennies on the dollar that tipped him off? Perhaps Lehman Brothers' declared bankruptcy? Maybe McCain noticed that tacking Fanny and Freddie onto the ledgers effectively doubled the national deficit. Or he might have noticed the CBS/NYT poll indicating that Americans picked "the economy and jobs" 3:1 over any other option when asked the following question:
In deciding who you would like to see elected president this year, which one of the following issues will be most important to you: terrorism and national security, the economy and jobs, health care, the war in Iraq, gas prices and energy policy, illegal immigration, or something else?
Americans may never know what finally got through to McCain. What they can not possibly miss, however, is how long it took him to get it.
McCain's myopia on the economy isn't too hard to understand though; his proposed tax policy explains everything. Like many Republicans, Senator McCain takes a dim view of taxes and his 2008 proposal involves cutting taxes drastically: by more than 4.2 Trillion Dollars. The most dramatic cuts will fall to the
haves and the have mores, the traditional base of the Bush era Republican Party with the these wealthiest of Americans enjoying almost a 5% tax break under a McCain Presidency.
In that context, it all makes sense. When McCain said "the fundamentals of our economy are strong," they were... for his base. Only when the economic chickens came home to roost – when the pocketbooks of the ultra-rich were threatened -- did McCain change his tone. Only then was our economy "in crisis."
Since then McCain has floundered for a message. On 60 Minutes (9/21/2008) he expressed no regrets for his formative 1999 role to deregulate Wall Street, commenting
deregulation was probably helpful to the growth of our economy, yet the Republican nominee continues to call for
strong and effective regulation of the nation's financial sector.
Strong and effective – that is – just so long as it does not inconvenience any of McCain's elite constituency. McCain's non-committal and feigned, new-found economic populism is more of the same for him. Watchers of the Arizona Senator's campaign might recall a similar thematic that arose around the issue of lavish executive severance packages. Speaking at the NFIB Summit, McCain commented
Americans are right to be offended when the extravagant salaries and severance deals of CEO's... Something is seriously wrong when the American people are left to bear the consequences of reckless corporate conduct, while the offenders themselves are packed off with another forty - or fifty million for the road.
Forty or fifty million, as it turns out, is exactly the severance package taken home by Carly Fiorina, one of McCain's top economic advisers, after laying off roughly three times the population of Wasilla Alaska. When McCain was pressed on the topic of Fiorina's severance package by the Today Show's Meredith Vieira, however, the Senator could not seem to find his indignation or – indeed – his memory. In response to Vieira's assertion that
[Fiorina got] a $45 million dollar golden parachute after being fired while 20,000 of her employees were laid off, McCain could only offer
I have many of the people, but I do not know the details of what happened.
With attention to detail like that, it's no small wonder that Americans are blaming the Republicans two-to-one for the economic meltdown now in progress.