Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Monday, September 15, 2008

  McCain as Herbert Hoover

This morning in Florida, as the American financial market implodes, John McCain did his Herbert Hoover imitation once again - something that the Obama campaign frequently ridicules him for:

I think still - the fundamentals of our economy are strong.

It makes a certain kind of sense for a sitting president to make this kind of assertion. George Bush has been saying the very same thing for several years as the economy stagnated and financial disaster loomed. But the fact that McCain feels impelled at this stage to embrace the economic-fundamentals-are-strong line reveals as clearly as anything the extent to which he is running as a quasi-incumbent, the extension of the Bush presidency.

What McCain had to say today was this:

"You know that there's been tremendous turmoil in our financial markets and Wall Street. And it is, it's - people are frightened by these events. Our economy, I think still - the fundamentals of our economy are strong. But these are very, very difficult times."

Video is here:

That's virtually indistinguishable from what George Bush has been saying this year. But ironically, McCain went on to argue that what is needed in Washington is a major change in the government's oversight of financial institutions, in particular greater transparency – and that he is the person to bring that change!

"This is a failure...The McCain Palin administration will replace the outdated patchwork quilt of regulatory oversight and bring transparency and accountability to Wall Street, we will bring transparency and accountability and we will reform the regulatory bodies of government."

Never mind that McCain has been in Washington for decades and done little to beef up regulation and accountability (in the Keating Five scandal in the 1980s he sought to undercut bank regulators and then refused to hold himself accountable for the ensuing bank failures). Nor has McCain brought transparency even in things directly in his control (witness the vast numbers of documents he sealed from public scrutiny in his softball "investigation" of Jack Abramoff).

But for our purposes, just compare McCain's rhetoric to that of George Bush. Here was President Bush last August, as he was about to head out of Washington for another one of his long summer vacations, responding to a question about the volatility in the financial markets and the effect of the mortgage crisis on the economy:

Now, what I focus on are the fundamentals of our economy. My belief is that people will make rational decision based upon facts. And the fundamentals of our economy are strong. I mentioned some of them before. Job creation is strong. Real after-tax wages are on the rise. Inflation is low.


One thing is for certain, is that there needs to be more transparency in the -- in financial documents. In other words, a lot of people sign up to something they're not exactly sure what they're signing up for.

And here is Bush's rhetoric about regulation (with regard to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac):

As you know, we put up a robust reform package for these two institutions, a reform package that will cause them to focus on their core mission, first and foremost; a reform package that says like other lending institutions, there ought to be regulatory oversight.

As for accountability, the press conference closed with Bush dodging repeated questions about his failure to hold anybody accountable.

In short, Bush has specialized in exactly the kind of empty rhetoric regarding economic and financial reform that John McCain is using on the stump. It will be hard for voters to see anything in McCain's proposals other than a continuation of Bushonomics – especially since McCain chose a running mate who knows, if anything, less about economics than he does.

Well, aside from his tendency toward ignorance and indifference, there is of course a reason why this president (like many of his predecessors) regularly insists that economic fundamentals are sound. The current financial crisis brings that into sharp relief today: The last bastion against total financial meltdown now is a fragile belief in fundamentals underpinning creaky Wall St. institutions. Absent faith in incommensurable "fundamentals", the collapse will spread unpredictably far.

"Once you lose confidence, the fundamentals matter less."

Many would say it's a president's job to put a brave face on economic fragility. The willingness of McCain to say this kind of nonsense, however, which invites once again the charge of "being politically tone-deaf", is a good measure of the degree to which McCain is indeed the successor to Bush. McCain himself recognizes that he cannot truly run as an outsider, that he must adapt to being the representative of a third Bush term. As the financial and economic situation worsens, it will not present an opportunity to McCain, but rather a trap. It's the trap that Herbert Hoover never found a way to escape from between 1930 and 1932: How to run as an agent of hope, a symbol of competence, and an experienced hand on the tiller, while simultaneously talking up the "soundness" of fundamentals?

And Hoover was a lot sharper and more experienced than John McCain in a whole range of ways. For one thing, Hoover had the political sense, during the election year, to ditch the happy talk about the economy. McCain still hasn't figured out even that much.

And Obama is not about to make things easier for him:

"This country can't afford another four years of this failed philosophy," Obama said...

"The challenges facing our financial system today are more evidence that too many folks in Washington and on Wall Street weren't minding the store," Obama said in a statement. "Eight years of policies that have shredded consumer protections, loosened oversight and regulation, and encouraged outsized bonuses to CEOs while ignoring middle-class Americans have brought us to the most serious financial crisis since the Great Depression."

"I certainly don't fault Sen. McCain for these problems," Obama said, "but I do fault the economic philosophy he subscribes to."

This is the single most important element that has been missing, for the most part, from Obama's election campaign thus far – a picture of what the Republican philosophy of governance leads to. The current financial crisis has provided a golden opportunity to make that case, tying McCain to the spectacularly failed policies of Bush that he has endorsed or supported for the past 8 years.

crossposted at

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