Tuesday, September 30, 2008
I'm not an economist, but I'm nevertheless startled that many Americans simply don't understand what's being revealed in this crisis. So I've created this response: hopefully, for those of you trying to understand what's happening here, this will clarify a few things.
Let's start with the question, if we stand to lose trillions of dollars, what happened to the money? And shouldn't we find the criminals who "took" it and punish them?
The question is a little like asking, if I buy a work of art and find that the artist's value doesn't justify what I paid for it and I can't sell it to get my money back, what happened to the money? Shouldn't I sue the guy who sold it to me?
Well - it depends...did he intentionally MISLEAD you about the value of the artist? Or did something happen to make the artist less valuable: let's say suddenly people find he made hundreds of such paintings, instead of just one, so it's not really that unique and worthwhile. If it's the former, you'd sue. But if it's the latter, what do you do?
There's an argument to be made that the CEO's have been intentionally misleading shareholders about the true value of their firms. If that's true, it's criminal - like the seller who intentionally sells a fake painting - and the FBI should go after that and that's what they are doing: investigating companies like AIG and Lehman Brothers. But it seems that's just a small portion of the problem. The real problem is that we're suddenly finding out that our artist: the US economy - just isn't as great as everyone has previously thought.
So most of the money is disappearing because this banking crises has revealed something that the world never really suspected before: that Americans simply don't produce much tangible good to the world, other than movies and war, even though everyone still thought our economy was so valuable. But as it turns out, other than movies and war, most of the rest of what we produce was just highly overvalued fluff.
The world is suddenly realizing that we're not really a virtuoso; we're more like a third-rate hack. So that's where all your money has gone: to the people who thought the American economy was much stronger than it really was, and sold you a piece of it.
So here's the corollary to this question: why is the bailout needed? And how come the bailout stabilizes the markets?
The answer is as if when you found out that your prized artist had actually produced a lot of hackneyed paintings, someone comes along and says, "well, those hackneyed paintings are pretty valuable after all, because even though there were hundreds of them, each one is slightly different and blah blah blah," and now everyone thinks the painting is valuable again.
Not just any Joe can come along and say this and make a difference. You need an authority.
The government is the only authority left. It's a little like this art appraiser coming along and saying to the world: actually, the U.S. economy isn't so bad, the government has faith in it, it'll do okay. And then, the theory goes, everyone else will have faith in it again too.
The problem with this approach is two-fold: the appraiser needs to have a pretty good explanation for why the painting is really valuable; and people need to believe the appraiser.
Right now, the reworked Paulson plan is like a kind of half-assed explanation as to why our economy is actually worth a hill of beans. Not great. But there's a lot of good will in the world, so it's probably passable. The problem is, not many people put much faith in our appraiser. So if Paulson and the plan becomes discredited, our economy really will be worthless.
My gut says to agree with this analysis. As Sean says, Palin is the only thing firing up the base right now. But then there are the rumors that McCain will drop her before the debate (after the debate, it doesn't matter.)
And McCain has been nothing but full of surprises.
What if McCain could replace someone who could give him an "economy" narrative AND fire up the base? What about Huckabee?
But then, why not pick Huckabee to begin with? I think even Huckabee would look extremely weak. McCain would have to put Boon Pickens or Warren Buffet on the ticket, and even then, he'd still likely lose.
I kind of want to fight the rumors here. It could be an intentional Republican ploy to lower expectations to below zero. Because I just don't see anything to be gained for McCain by letter her go now. Best to take the chances on the debates.
It is not just Congress that has dissolved into partisan bickering. Americans themselves are blinded by their political allegiance: Democrats blame Republicans for the crisis, and vice versa.
This is the result of the MSNB versus FOX culture, where Democrats and Republicans only need to listen to voices that echo their own opinion (or listen to CNN, which simply echoes controversy).
I know, I know. It was Bush and Rove who created the partisan divisions to distract the public from their disastrous Presidency. It's Obama who's best equipped to change this dire culture. I know.
But put that aside for the moment. Both political cultures have enabled this collapse by failing to LEAD. Leadership involves a) having credibility b) being able to adjust your opinion to fit the facts and c) putting your credibility on the line in order to defend unpopular positions. Bush has been the master of not leading, but our whole country seems to be infected with this poison now. This problem exists in our media punditry as much as in our political and economic culture. Watching the hens clucking on the news programs - and not explaining to Americans why something needs to be done - is a failure of our media leadership as well.
The poisoned partisan atmosphere makes it too easy for us to ignore "inconvenient truths." Democrats need to acknowledge that bad regulations can distort markets. That they sometimes support bills - like expanding home ownership - because they are politically popular rather than economically responsible. That they can and have made mistakes that have allowed it to be all too easy for the Administration to have ignored this crisis for too long. Republicans need to acknowledge that there are times when the free market can fail: and this is one of them. That sometimes government is the solution because government is the only player that can bring real "buy and hold" powers to the markets. That they should have gotten over this rigid ideology that's led to this inertia and acted much sooner. And that they've supported this clueless Administration way too long and too much.
So let's all have this cathartic moment. Then let's get together and do what Americans use to do: save our asses, and the world.
That's why the markets tanked yesterday. Because no one could believe it: the no vote indicated that we just don't have anymore what America used to have to pull together as a country.
Clearly, Congress has to pass something. But with people on the right and left both agreeing that the Paulson plan is fundamentally flawed, perhaps this is time to come back with something better structured.
Many argue that buying up toxic derivatives and getting them off the books is the ONLY way to restore liquidity. I tend to agree that this component is necessary. But I think the markets would survive if this wasn't the focus.
Perhaps the focus should combine the consensus between liberal Paul Krugman and conservative Ben Stein on CNN last night: providing more help to homeowners and buying bank stocks of failing banks (as done in the case of AIG).
Perhaps, rather than buy the toxic derivatives over value and taking warrents if the government isn't made whole (which seems backwards), government should just be given a range of tools to deal on a case by case basis: 1/3 of the money for investing, 1/3 of money for buying out the derivatives (with the other compromise measures in place) - adding a stipulation that banks who sell their derivatives can't expect a future cash infusion rescue - and 1/3 of the money to aid homeowners.
Increasing the money for investment would help the government participate more on the updside and reassure taxpayers they would be made whole eventually.
Keeping some part of a derivatives purchase plan would give the government leverage to step in and resotre financial confidence in the short term where needed.
Increasing the homeowner aid would increase the political popularity of the proposal. And it would put the money where it would ultimately do the most good: at the root of the problem.
I have no doubt that Palin is a poised politician and if she doesn't get herself tripped up, she could regurgitate some talking points with poise.
And sure, all politicians try their best to stick to talking points. (Okay, not Joe Biden. That should make Thursday really interesting.)
But the scary thing here is, until this week, Republicans are admitting that Palin has had absolutely no interest or experience in any of the issues that will be discussed in the debates. Most people on a Presidential ticket at least have thought about these things a few times before getting up on the podium. Any thoughts that she does express on Thursday will be memorized talking points, not actual thought created by actual brain cells making connections.
I mean, I could cram for the debate with Joe for three days and probably do at least as well - if not better - than Palin would.
Do voters really want to elect the college student who slept through class all semester and has to cram for exams at the last minute to lead their country during a national economic catastrophe?
Only in the worst sort of Hollywood comedy. Which is what McCain's campaign has become.
Monday, September 29, 2008
Us markets will probably drop another 4 - 5% tomorrow (we'll see). Altogether that would mean Republican's no vote will have cost the S&P close to 15% in under 24 hours. Remarkable!
UPDATE: European markets remained steady. So the mood is changing. Talk must be that people are execting something to pass this week. Stocks may well end up up a bit today.
The danger is that this might lull Congress into thinking there is still time. Clearly, if nothing is done, Suzy Ormand is right: the stock market will shed another 15% to 20%. If legislatured don't realize now that that's the value hanging over their heads, they should be booted out immediately.
Could those who voted NO have seriously miscalculated the effect of their vote on their changes?
The people were like the Congress members: desperately praying that SOMEONE ELSE would vote for the bill so that they wouldn't have any PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY for it. Everyone assured House leaders they would vote for the bill but then backed out thinking they could vote no and the bill would still pass. That's the same sort of thinking as constituents wanting them to vote no so they could rail against Wall Street and "stick to the man" but thinking the bill would pass nevertheless, and they could keep their righteous superiority.
So we only have ourselves to blame for our economic demise. This is the anti-9/11: Americans showing just how pathetic they are when faced with a crisis. In two hours, the net worth of America lost more money than was at stake in the bill to begin with.
10. Car Wash Attendant. Think of all the wear and tear as people eat, sleep, and otherwise hibernate in their cars. Be the first on your block to collect the coins every week when the stench finally drives them in for a cleaning.
9. Solar Panel Thief. Yes: steal and support greening the environment all at once! With the proper equipment, solar panels are yours for the taking and worth pennies on the dollar on eBay, just like stocks.
8. Pawn Shop Dealer. All you need is a table, a chair, some good old worthless American cash, and a keen eye for valuables and you too can start ripping off the desperadoes for their keepsakes and valuables.
7. Campaign Consultant. Get started now advising Congressmen who win re-election as they desperately try to solve the crisis while holding onto their careers by the tips of their fingernails.
6. Repo Man. Good with break-ins and quick on your feet? This job could be for you. Earn the respect of your peers and have stories of narrow escape from gunfire to tell the significant other.
5. Federal Public Works Program Administrator. You'll have to wait a while before the government finally processes your paycheck. But at least you'll have paperwork waiting for you every day.
4. Drug Dealer. This is one economy that won't be affected by the bust. Take advantage of increasing demand as people plug-in and drop-out to forget their woes.
3. Ramon Noodle Manufacturer. Noodle processing plants will be hiring as they crank out the growing demand for .49 cent dinners.
2. Tent Salesman. When out there living in tent-city, Americans will want the state-of-the-art camping equipment that only you can provide.
1. Bankruptcy Attorney. Rake in hundreds an hour in legal fees before people start using dollar bills for fuel. Then be the last person to turn out the lights.
Yes: A lot of chatter is that since the Republicans didn't want to support a bi-partisan compromise, then Dems should use their majority to pass a strictly Democratic bill and let the Republicans go to hell.
The they will have effectively shown that Republicans in the House scuttled the compromise and the Bush administration will be forced to adopt a Democratic solution. Brilliant.
Today's rout in the markets may make that decision more urgent.
My guess - McCain may actually be thinking he can salvage his sinking campaign by replacing her with either Mitt Romney or Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg would be the more brilliant selection. All the enthusiasm from the base would be lost but he has to calculate: would they really vote for Obama? And could he "reinvent" himself one more time as a team better structured to handle the crisis?
My sources are only speculating on a replacement but the "drop Palin" rumor seems to be out there. I think he's sunk with or without her, but given what we've seen from McCain I wouldn't put it past him to try one more Hail Mary.
Some people wonder why it hasn't dropped the 20% predicted. That's because some people are still hoping a new vote might pass it. If a second vote goes down, there's probably another 6% drop in store, with about 12% more bleeding out through the end of October as banks and hedge funds fail.
Then we'll see the market "stabilize" as the economy crash follows. Unemployment would probably be around 10% by inauguration day (people are estimating between four and five million unemployed). Housing prices would probably go down another 20% over the next six months: overbuilt areas like Cali, Ariz, Florida may see another 30% decline. Mean incomes would probably decline about the same over the coming year, with increasing foreclosures keeping housing prices low for half a decade.
Negative GDP for two years (starting Q3 2008). At least five years for income and personal assets to climb back to today's levels.
I'm sorry that so many Americans were cheering on this economic catastrophe out of spite. And I hope I'm being wildly pessimistic!
Nevertheless, it was the House Republicans who failed to come through. So we can call this the "Bush/McCain Depression"
Assuming the hidden microphone trick doesn't play, I think that Intrade should open up a third line of betting on Thursday's debate:
Odds that Biden will be considered the "winner" (by being more knowledgeable and reassuring to voters): 45%
Odds that Palin will be considered the "winner" (by being beating the insanely low expectations, able to answer questions and being more relatable to average voters): 35%
Odds that Palin's performance will be a historical cringe-inducing nationally televised disaster akin to watching the Hindenburg blow up: 20%
I'll be watching just 'cause of that last 20%.
Sunday, September 28, 2008
Again, Gallup reacts faster than Rasmussen. This suggests that Obama had a GREAT response to the debates and we'll see that response get baked in even more over the coming days. Undecided voters obviously felt Obama was plausible as a Commander In Chief and felt comfortable making up their minds in his favor. This may turn into an Obama blowout.
(Here's a great analysis by James Fallows of why this debate worked SO WELL for Obama and his overall campaign, and how McCain continues to focus on tactics, even in this debate, losing the bigger picture of the strategy needed to sway undecided voters at this point. I've been thinking the same things about the debate but couldn't have said it better than Fallows does.)
My sense is that Palin has little chance to change this dynamic in her debate on Thursday. If she wins the debate over Biden (which could happen: she beats expectations, gets a zinger, Biden makes a gaffe) it would slow Obama's momentum but not erode his overall lead. The VP's have become increasingly irrelevant since the financial meltdown.
Debate two is a town forum. McCain is much better at these types of things and will likely get some points back on that, but my sense is it will only be a fraction of the three-point bump Obama got from Friday.
Debate three is an economic debate. Judging from McCain's performance Friday and Obama's dominance on this issue, my sense is this would erase any McCain gains from the VP debates and debate 2.
So my prediction: Unless there is another major game-changing event or big October surprise (terrorist attack, Iran nukes Israel, McCain has heart-attack, Michelle Obama comes out as a lesbian, etc.), we're likely looking at an 8 point Obama lead in polls before election day. For those of you who believe there's a Bradley effect masking Obama's real votes (and the only state where I think this might be happening is Pennsylvania), this should cover that margin. At this point, Obama could lose Pennysylvania and still plausibly win Virginia, Nevada, Colorado, and New Hampshire.
This is the first time I've heard Google taking any policy position. It's yet one more reason why they are such a kick ass company, with a $135 billion market cap.
To put this in perspective: Google has a larger market capitalization than Citibank.
So I'd put my money on Google.
If that happens, I think protesters should take a cue from Bill Mahar and fly up to Alaska with signs that say "free Levi Johnson" - maybe even get some Hooters girls to wear t-shirts saying, "Levi: Don't Do It...and I'll Do You Instead...."
The only difference?
They've included the hugely expensive Republic insurance scheme, even though Paulson says he won't use it.
Paulson - quite rightly - doesn't want to use the insurance scheme because it is a hugely expensive big-government bureaucracy. It is bizzaro Republicanism. But if putting it in gets the deal passed, fine.
How much damage did the House Republican grandstanding do to the economy, besides causing the failure of WaMu? Only time will tell.
Saturday, September 27, 2008
In election season, there is a price for being turned into a symbol...Which brings me to the sexism of John McCain. He knew full well what Sarah Palin was going to face if he nominated her. He knew that reporters would go through her past, that they'd quiz her on the present, that she would need to be ready, and he shunted concern aside, and tossed her to the wolves. For one last run at the White House, he risked a future star of the party he claims to call home. How do you do that?
I agree with Coats' premise - watching Palin be eaten alive by her own insufficiency for the VP office is sad and disturbing - even evokes pity - no matter what you think of her and her politics. But I disagree that McCain intended to throw her to the wolves. I think McCain just didn't think about it. Didn't think beyond the easy high of exciting the base and his uninformed decision of the moment that Palin's unreadiness might backfire, that they might not be able to hide it from the voters. It was hubris, not callousness, that caused them to pick her. But by the time it did occur to them, it was too late: she had to become the virgin sacrifice to the Republican campaign ambitions.
As I said from the start, picking Palin has sent McCain's campaign off the rails. There's no recovering. The temporary high of the convention did little to actually heal Republican rifts, and the danger of launching an unknown into the public - especially one with only a year of real political experience - is that opinion about her can be painted by others and changed with a few well-placed shots or bad performances. This is no Dan Quayle, who came off as bumbling despite years of political experience and some real savvy. This is a genuine novice whose background is riffe with small town scandals and whose political career was just getting started. As I said, McCain had to go all the way to Alaska to find her. The Republicans had many qualified women, but don't have that many others who fit the demographics that she does. Now they may not get another Palin for quite a while.
Need a good laugh with your Schadenfreude? Here it is:
Of course it would be okay with Barney - it's a BIG STATE Roosevelt-style government insurance plan.
Why are Republicans proposing MORE government to solve a banking crisis rather than INVESTING?
Because they are so blinded by ideology they've gone so far out on their little right limb that they've entered the Bizzaro time-space continuum and come back on the far left.
1. Obama is clearly more passionate and knowledgeable about the economy. McCain is clearly more passionate and knowledgeable about war. The public has to decide: do they want a war President, or an economic President? My suspicion is, this year, we've finally tired of war, and want to do something about the economy.
2. The CNN reaction ticker was interesting. When McCain talked, the Republican, Independent, and Democratic lines separately widely. When Obama talked, the lines all tacked together - or if the Republican line drifted away (particularly when Obama talked about spending), the Independent line tracked with the Democrats. McCain clearly divides the country. Obama clearly unites the country, most of the time, and when he doesn't, the Independents are with him.
3. Obama's test: can he seem plausible as Commander in Chief? He lapsed into wonkiness occasionally, but he interrupted at the right times to make his point, and sounded sure of himself, so he passed.
4. McCain's test: is he too much of a lose cannon to be trusted? He passed, but barely. His constant refrain that Obama isn't ready made McCain seem a bit too much like Sarah Palin: someone who has to stick to talking points because he has no real point to make. But he was better at the heart-warming bracelet stories than Obama was, and drew a line in the sand on torture. He may drag us into a stupid war but he came off human-like enough, and at least we know that unlike Bush, he'll show up at the military funerals.
5. Obama's biggest mistake? He still doesn't really sell the "talking to unscrupulous leaders" point well (even though I think he's right on the substance of it), and had an opportunity - twice - to say Israel must survive and smash Ahmadinejad's anti-semitism. He took a pass, and Jewish voters will notice, and not like it.
6. McCain's biggest mistake? Harping on that slashing earmarks will save our economy. Voters may be dumb, but when you're kicking them out of their houses, they prick up their ears and listen for real answers. What they heard from McCain was another gimmick, and then sticking to his gimmick. Not reassuring.
Keeping in mind Presidents aren't elected by popular vote but state-by-state run downs, did the debate shift any of the swing-state dynamics?
Obama probably lost Florida as the Jewish vote swings massively to McCain, didn't do much to help himself in McCain-loving New Hampshire, and ran down some of his comfortable margin in NJ and NY, but solidified his crucial hold on the iffy rust-belt states: Minnesota, Michigan and Pennsylvania. He also kept Ohio strongly in play for him, maybe even Indiana. Conversely, with Obama sounding convincing as commander in chief, McCain failed to change his downward dynamics in Colorado and Virginia.
In the end, yes, we did go twelve rounds without a knockout. And both opponents scored points. But I have to give it narrowly to Obama: on the ground level, Obama did more what he needed to do than McCain.
Friday, September 26, 2008
Here is the basics of the Republican bailout plan: instead of buying assets from institutions and getting an equity stake in exchange for any premiums, the government would simply write insurance on toxic mortgages, then pay insurance claims as those assets go bust.
So instead of having the government *invest* the 700 billion - with the possibility that taxpayers might make some money (or lose some money) on their investment - the Republicans want the government to just pay out the 700 billion in insurance claims as the banking system blows up. So we'd just let the economy slowly go down the crapper and throw 700 billion of taxpayer money after it.
Huh? How is this conservative? How is this free enterprise? Oh, because the government wouldn't "own" anything.
Under the Paulson-Dodd compromise plan, the government would be acting like a homeowner or someone with an IRA, putting money to work in the markets, taking risk but getting reward if the risk pays off.
Under the Republican plan, the government is acting like a castrated nanny state, paying out insurance claims, unable to do anything but watch assets go bust, and gaining nothing in return.
Under the guise of ideological "free market" purity, Republicans want to create the biggest nanny state deal ever created. Are their heads screwed on backwards?
Their plan is unworkable: it's really a JOKE. The repeal of capital gains taxes would make the problem WORSE by encouraging banks NOT to sell the troubled assets. The other part of the plan is simply a more convoluted, slow way of doing what's in the compromise, and would end up costing taxpayers just as much. And they held onto this JOKE of theirs until yesterday when they could pull the trigger and murder the economy.
Kind of like another famous Joker.
Even conservative William Kristol agrees the House Republicans can't be serious, and suggests that McCain's best option at this point is to put forward a third way.
Interestingly, his third way looks a lot like Paul Krugman's initial ideas. So I wouldn't be too upset if this is what happens, as it would reflect a consensus of liberal and conservative thinkers who AREN'T in the Bush administration and is probably better than the compromise on the table, which starts from Paulson's flawed conceptions. It was probably the plan that should have come out to begin with. But the basic tenants embodied in the compromise aren't that much different, now, from these underlying ideals in the third way - we're talking improvements in tactics, not concepts. So the delay to get here is pretty unconscionable. And if McCain gets to take credit for it, it'll be a real ding against the Democrats for dickering around with Paulson.
Either way, we need something soon. I'm hoping that once the debates are scuttled and Obama has his town hall, McCain come to his senses.
And Obama shouldn't reschedule the debate. McCain should take a forfeit for his unconsciounalbe, unpatriotic charade.
I never thought I'd live to actually see something like this. I don't know what else to say.
BTW, my apologies to Harry Reid. It seems that McCain DID come to Washington not to save the rescue but merely as a political ploy.
Thursday, September 25, 2008
1. We aren't going to be simply throwing 700 billion into the toilet. We're buying assets with it. Those assets are probably worth something. In fact, most of that money will never be debt. In fact, the taxpayer could end up MAKING money on this deal (as they did in the S&L crisis) if everyone keeps their heads and we get the economy back on track relatively quickly (which - let's all pray - is hopefully still possible). So talk about the "exploding debt" and giving away your money is a bit premature.
2. Other countries (Sweden and Japan) have done something similar to restore confidence under similar banking crises. So this isn't unprecedented or completely thrown to the wind (though the amount requested is).
3. Paulson's plan was egregiously light on specifics and heavy on authoritarian hand of the Bush administration. Bush lost all credibility long ago, and Paulson's plan was barely credible. So not only did they let this problem grow to once-in-a-century crisis proportions, they also badly mishandled the crisis. This crisis could have been much less dramatic had it been handled by a competent administration and a realistic proposal to start with.
4. Just because Bush has no credibility doesn't mean this isn't a real crisis. This is a real crisis.
5. No one wants to reward bankers in this deal. Believe me, the FBI is on the case - we'll see bankers go to jail. But a case will take years to put together. First, in a matter of days, we have to avoid an economic meltdown.
6. This deal wouldn't have - or won't have - (whatever the tense might be at the moment) happened without McCain going to Washington to "own" the deal along with Obama. Let's remember that when we start bashing McCain for playing politics. But as Obama says, being President means being able to do more than one thing at the same time. He can't broker a deal and have a debate at the same time? Brotha, please. (UPDATE: Scratch this point. Looks like McCain went to Washington in bad faith after all.)
7. Bi-partisan consensus is a key aspect of the deal. Lenders won't trust any deal that doesn't have full support of all three of the key political players here (Bush, Republicans, and Democrats). It's terrible timing since Bush is the lamest of lame ducks and Obama and McCain are engaged in a political dogfight to surpass all dogfights. But unfortunately, if any one of these legs falls, the deal won't work, because confidence won't be restored. So nitpicking the deal to death or playing save-my-ass politics with it (as some coalition of Republicans seem to want to do) is self-defeating.
8. Did I say this is serious? It's serious. Every day of delay increases the number of businesses that will fail, the number of home foreclosures, the number of people without jobs, the amount that your home and savings values will fall. Why? Because credit is frozen right now, and nothing in this country happens without credit: workers don't get paid, homes don't get sold, goods don't get bought, people soon can't pay their bills. Is this part of an artificial bubble economy that's collapsing. Hell yes. But how do you want this bubble to collapse: slowly and in a somewhat controlled fashion, in such as way that Americans can adjust over the next decade to their decreasing standard of living and lesser importance in the world, or all at once, so that everyone is out of work and on the street in a matter of months, and the U.S. and the world is thrown into economic and political chaos? Those are our options: pick one.
9. Just because we have a deal this weekend, that's not the end of the story. Congress can go on to regulate the banking system, punish executives, impeach Bush, whatever else makes everyone feel better. But if something gets passed NOW and Paulson can get started injecting liquidity into the system, we have a potential treatment for our dying economy - which is the ball everyone needs to keep their eye on.
10. Will the treatment work? Can we save the economy? Who knows. There's no guarantee. The only thing I think you could safely guarantee is that if there's no deal, you'd better get your winter coat, gloves, and bread box ready for that bread line you'll be standing in this winter....
I thank Senator McCain for helping the Congress come to a resolution on this critical matter.
I think think the dude is way craaaazy, though....
I agree. The bailout would go down in defeat without McCain. He needed to get on board and give political cover to Republicans, and Democrats needed political cover from Republicans being on board as well.
I am not arguing that McCain's going to Washington to assist the bailout plan is a political stunt. That's genuine.
But saying he's "suspending his campaign" (when he's really not - his ads are still on TV and he was giving a campaign speech this morning), and saying we can't have a debate on Friday - that's a political stunt.
Finklestein needs to make a correction. Henry Reid may be calling McCain's getting involved in the negotiations a stunt, but I'm not, and neither is Barney Frank. We're saying that canceling the debate is a stunt.
If it wasn't a stunt, why not coordinate it with Obama and send out a joint announcement, like they did on 9/11? He didn't - because it was a stunt.
With Obama's statement that "it's important for the American people to hear from their next President," and reactions like Letterman's, McCain looks more politically terrified than someone who is putting country first.
I think McCain DID have to go back to Washington. Republicans are revolting on the bill...trying to shift the blame to Democrats...but Democrats were having none of that, saying they wouldn't pass it without the Republicans. And if something isn't passed soon, the economy will seriously start to crater and - if that happens - McCain's campaign is effectively over. Who would elect McCain with banks closing and 12% unemployment by election day? McCain saw he had to do this: he was needed to provide political cover for the Republicans, or this rescue wouldn't pass.
I give him credit for that - without doing that, McCain would have single-handedly caused a Great Depression.
But he must not have calculated how much cancelling the debate would backfire. He tried to do too much here, covering the Palin liability at the same time. I think McCain just had to take the hit on Palin. But if he really had wanted to rescue the situation, he could have simply suggested changing the venue to Washington and topic of the debates to the economy. It wouldn't have been in Obama's interest to debate the economy now, but since that's what Americans want to hear about, he'd have to have agreed to the topic and location switch. Then McCain could get all the bad news out of the way now and end on the stronger foreign policy debate.
He could say, "I know this is an unusual time but I still feel it's very important - more important than ever - for the American public to hear from the candidates. One of the candidates, anyway. So ask me what you want..."
Without McCain there to challenge his answers, it'd be like a mini Democratic convention....
And better than that, McCain would end up forfeiting his "foreign policy" debate.....(but then, I suppose all hell would break lose in terms of renegotiating all the other debates, so who knows what might happen next).
Why? Because no one has a better handle on what needs to be done than Clinton. It's a solution that addresses the underlying problem and reaches out directly to main street.
But no one wanted the Clintons back in the White House. Until last week.
Either he was spooked by her recent performance, as evidenced on Couric's show,* or he's worried that there's some truth to this breaking scandal in the Enquirer.
Watch for this: Even though there is already effectively a compromise in place today, Senate Republicans will have McCain's back, refusing to sign the compromise bank rescue bill until the weekend.
I never thought I say this: we have a political environment where President Bush is acting more reponsibly than John McCain.
Let's just hope our economy can withstand these political shenanigans for three more days.
*By the way, just because Palin says in this interview that if we don't sign the bill "we'll be headed for the Great Depression," this doesn't tie McCain's hands. Yeah, it's fear mongering, but who thinks Palin influences the markets? And after Biden's gaffes this week where he's said about forty things contradicting Obama, I don't think Democrats could make very much of that comment.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
At 8:30 this morning, Senator Obama called Senator McCain to ask him if he would join in issuing a joint statement outlining their shared principles and conditions for the Treasury proposal and urging Congress and the White House to act in a bipartisan manner to pass such a proposal. At 2:30 this afternoon, Senator McCain returned Senator Obama’s call and agreed to join him in issuing such a statement. The two campaigns are currently working together on the details.
So Obama calls, asks that the campaigns COME TOGETHER, put POLITICS ASIDE to work on the crisis and guide Congress to a bipartisan solution.
McCain responds by issuing a partisan statement pre-empting the joint announcement, and wanting to avoid the debates.
Remember being a kid and having a fight with some punk and let's say something happens like a car accident and and you say, "let's stop fighting and go help that old woman who's been run over by a car," and the opponent says "sure" and then as you both put down your fists to go help the old lady, he lands one last punch in your gut. That's McCain.
If this was really going to be about "putting aside politics" they would have issued a joint statement. But it isn't, and McCain didn't.
Anyone who believes, after this, that McCain "puts America first" - well, I've got a bridge in Alaska to sell you....
The Obama people must be steaming about this. And they should be.
UPDATE: Obama calls McCain's bluff, saying we can address the markets and debate at the same time. Even Conservatives concede that Obama wins this point.
Waiting to hear on Obama's response to McCain's punt of postponing the debates. (BTW, attacking the press and hiding out seems to be the only strategy the campaign has left, anymore.) Only time will tell if this kick down the field will get him into Obama territory, of if the Obama linebackers can sack the punter deep in McCain's turf.
Here's the thing: McCain essentially has been cornered into having to go back to Washington to vote for the bailout. As should Obama. But that shouldn't postpone the debates: McCain obviously feels we need to get past this news cycle or the debates will kill him. He's probably right. But Obama shouldn't let him get away with this, and probably won't. And most people will see this move for what it is: bald-faced desperation.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Obama wants to get under McCain's skin and make him blow a gasket and shout out something like, "fuck the American taxpayer, if they don't want to pony up another trillion dollars to nuke Iran, they can go to hell! And yeah, I picked Sarah Palin because she's smokin' hot, not 'cause of what's upstairs - you want to make something of it, you pansy wusses?"
McCain, for his part, wants to psy-ops Obama into making some slip-up like, "when Michelle and I invited William Ayers to join our foreign policy advisement team after our prayer-meeting at the mosque, we talked about how beneficial it might be if we, you know, asked Congress to invite Ahmadinejad to the U.S. to teach sex ed to kindergartners."
I think both of these men will be struggling mightily not to make such a screw-up. So expect everyone on stage to look slightly constipated.
Paulson is now claiming he intended there to be congressional oversight of his plan even though his original proposal expressly forbade it.
I'm not worried that Congress won't institute some kind of oversight.
No, what's disturbing about this is that it undermines Paulson's argument that bailing out the financial system is our only option. Many are arguing there are other options to look at. And Paulson wants us all to trust that we are indeed on the brink, because revealing any details in and of itself would precipitate panic. All well and good, as long as we all trust that Paulson has our best interests at heart.
But once we catch him soft-peddling deceptions like this, will more people start to distrust that we need to pony up the 700 billion? And if people don't believe the money is urgent, they will naturally bicker and delay.
If in fact the financial system is on the precipice, if Paulson loses credibility, we all lose.
I believe he may be sincere about that point, and our need to act swiftly. But if you ask me, he's lost any sense from me that he knows what he's really doing. I disagree with Thomas Friedman that Obama, if he is elected, should keep him on for the transition. He should fire him but fast.
Paulson kind of reminds me of a back doctor I went to when I threw out my back with a slipped disk. The doctor had graduated from Harvard and was head of a department as a major hospital. I'd been treated by one guy already who had only made me worse. So I went to the most qualified guy I could find. But this guy claimed he was hamstrung by the insurance company rules - I knew I'd thrown a disk, and I'd come to him for an MRI, but nevertheless he made me take two weeks of therapy first before he'd authorized it (he claimed the insurance company made him do that - but I think he just wanted the business) - and this treatment of his ended up practically crippling me. I finally had to leave and find another doctor, who rushed me into an MRI immediately (no, there were no such rules, he said).
Paulson is a little like my Harvard-educated quack. I quite reasonably suspect that he's part of the reason we're in this hole, and don't quite trust that he won't use this opportunity to help himself and his friends. Sure, now we're flat on the table and ready now for major surgery. No question we have have to act quickly. But Paulson isn't the quack I want to trust my life with.
What are the top three?
3. She lied about her previous statements on climate change. Serious because, like the Bush administration, she is anti-science and anti-environment and willing to lie about it.
2. She lied about pressure on Alaska's public safety commissioner to fire her ex-brother-in-law. Serious because Bush lawyers are now trying to squash the investigation into her abuse of power.
1. She has lied about the bridge to nowhere. Top because she started with this lie and just can't stop. And contrary to the McCain incarnation du jure, Sarah Palin is no reformer.
Important here: a political consensus emerged around the idea of the government taking an equity stake in return for buying bad assets. The consensus was important so that investors trusted that the proposal had wide public support.
The key idea here is that what Sweden did is quite similar to what Dodd is proposing.
How did it work in Sweden? Quite well. The banking system rebounded in a year.
What would be the cost if we DON'T pass this bill? Well, if the banking system collapses, let's start with FDIC insurance on deposits. Would that be 30 trillion? What about the lack of GDP from the recession? What about everyone's home values and IRAs being worth $0? For a start....
Monday, September 22, 2008
Even McCain has endorsed the idea, which has populist flair - and we all know that McCain's latest incarnation in the past 24 hours is as everyman's greatest populist.
Yes, CEO pay is obscene. But I disagree on this point. Now isn't the time to try to reform Wall Street millionaires, when TRILLIONS are at stake. It all seems a lot to people, but this is a little like standing at the Casablanca airport trying to come up with the $200 airfare for the last plane out before the Nazi's arrive and arguing back and forth about whether to tip the handler five cents or one cent.
It is SMALL POTATOES. Let's move on.
Getting equity stakes in the company, and having transparency and oversight of the process, are the key things Democrats have to fight for. CEO pay is just politics as usual. Let Paulson have it, if we can get what has to be in this measure.
The key point: The Government gets some stock for saving a bank's ass.
I think that's key. The moral hazard created by just socializing the banks' losses has to be at least as bad - down the road - as the potential Depression would be today. By getting a share of the company in return, it's not just that there is now some potential for taxpayers to recoup their losses: it's that banks have to give up some autonomy if they want to be rescued, and we discourage people from taking advantage of this windfall in bad faith.
At least this way, there is some consequence for making these bad bets. There absolutely has to be, or we'll all be even sorrier tomorrow.
UPDATE: Here is Dodd's plan. I think this is the correct medicine. Let's see if Bush and the Republicans blink, now that something common-sensical is out on the table. Congrats to congressional Democrats for pulling this together so quickly.
As good an explanation as any as to why our economic house of cards came crashing down last week, and how people like Phil Graham and John McCain engineered it.
Maybe that's why McCain is so busy trying to blame Obama for this mess; because he knows that in reality, he only has himself to blame.
Mrs. Klein was on Bill Mahar this weekend, but got a bit drowned out by Andrew Sullivan being overly pedantic on unrelated issues such as religion (Andrew, did you forget your meds?)
But hers is a voice that needs to be heard. The malarky the government is selling just doesn't wash. Economists like Paul Krugman have a much better handle on the problem. We need to be listening.
Below is an older interview with Ms. Klein.
Saturday, September 20, 2008
A week ago today, we were talking about McCain sustaining his bounce and the brilliance of his choice of Palin to energize the base and turn the election in his favor.
Today, Nate Silver is giving Obama a 71% chance of winning, 78% if adjusted for cell phones, and predicting over a 300 electoral vote margin for Obama. If those results simply hold steady, we're talking about a decisive victory for Obama.
That's a huge swing in a week. Certainly, when historians look back to analyze this election, the near melt-down of the world-wide financial markets will be considered a key event.
Yet the fortunes in this election did not turn on exterior events alone. It looks, in hindsight, like McCain has made a series of mistakes that have helped return Obama's lead.
1. Chosing Palin. After the convention it was hailed as a genius move. It seemed that only Democrats saw the perils of the Sarah Palin scandals. Now, however, her numbers are tanking, as people find out more about her. But what if. What if McCain had put Romney on the ticket, and instead of having a convention that appealed to the base, had genuinely taken on the far right and run toward the middle. Let's say he had been able to keep up the "experience" attack against Obama and run on the idea of "restoring competence." Well, maybe the convention wouldn't have given him such a great bounce. Maybe it wouldn't have been such a dramatic story line. Maybe he wouldn't have a celebrity VP. But he might have been able, this week, to get the upper hand on Obama, claiming that his ticket had what it took to guide the country in a time of crisis. It could be McCain's numbers, this week, that rose to overtake Obama's, and not the other way around. Instead, with Palin on the ticket, he's allowed Obama to paint him as reckless and rash, not qualities that look good as markets melt down.
2. Attacking the media. Knowing that Palin is indefensible on her readiness, Steve Schmidt, McCain's campaign manager, has launched a classic Republican attack on the media. A great gambit - except when there's big news. When there's big news, like this week, the public turns to the media for information. And feeling bruised by camp McCain, they no longer have any interest in covering McCain talking points without scrutiny. A less anti-media campaign, tied with a Romney VP, would have allowed McCain to be able to spin this week's coverage of his policy positions much more effectively. Not only that, he'd have Romney's money to help him make the point.
3. On Monday, as the catastrophic week unfolded, McCain uttered the disastrous line: "I believe the economy is fundamentally sound." It wouldn't be such a haunting line were it not almost identical to Hoover's. If there is one line that will sink McCain, this is it. It's not simply that he sounded - and in retrospect, looks completely - out of touch. It's that this line set him up to flounder much of the rest of the week, as he needed to change prescriptions, lash out, and backtrack to attempt to keep up with unfolding events. Obama had the advantage of being of the party out of power - so he could simply bash Bush-anomics, tie McCain to Bush, and get out of the way of saying anything stupid until events unfolded. McCain could have simply said, "these are unfortunate events. Long-term systemic problems need to be addressed in order to put our economy on sound footing. We are fully behind Secretary Paulson and believe in his competence to handle the issues, but will watch the situation carefully." Support the idea that people in power can handle this, that the problems are historical and bipartisan, and emphasize the need for experience. Instead, McCain sounded in denial: which is the last thing the public wants more of.
4. Assuming this wouldn't be a campaign about issues. Even if it weren't, anything could happen - and it's good to have something in your pocket in case it does. Let's look at Obama. People derided his trip abroad over the summer. But let's call this Obama's insurance. He knew foreign policy was his weak spot. If some big troubling foreign policy news story broke in September or October, he would need that trip to fall back on and give him at least some issue position he could reasonably take. An economic disaster, for McCain, is the equivalent of a terrorist attack or major war for Obama: an issue-based development that plays to his weakness. But McCain, unlike Obama, took out no issue insurance. He should have known that the economy was his weak issue - had perhaps done his own tour of duty with Paulson and Bernanke - and had some positions in the bag for just such a development.
5. Attempting to second guess the problem without any facts. This mistake may take some time to play out still, but I believe McCain's series of pronouncements this week did little to help him: first, calling for a 9/11-style commission. Then blaming Wall Street. Then claiming it would be irresponsible to bail out AIG. Then supporting the bailout. Then blaming the SEC chairman. Then blaming Obama. And finally, AFTER Paulson essentially says it's time to put a trillion dollars of taxpayer money into the problem, suggesting that a savings-and-loan-bailout-style Resolution Trust, which is about 1/10th of Paulson's proposal, would be sufficient to handle the problem. Either McCain's been getting terrible economic advise this week (which is another way Romney could have helped him), or he's literally been panicking and trying to come up with some kind of populist rhetoric that will stick. The Republicans have had success throwing everything at the wall against Obama until something took hold: but when it comes to issues, the public wants reassurance. McCain, oddly, didn't sound reassuring at all. It undermines his brand and will be hard to recover from, since tests under fire don't come around every day. (UPDATE: As predicted, this is not playing well: even George Will is criticizing McCain for being recklass with these proposals.)
So, while events of the current week have not been good for McCain, he's made several mistakes that have exacerbated his problems. With only six weeks left before the election, there's little time left for him to regain his stride.
Friday, September 19, 2008
Are we out of the woods? It doesn't feel like it. We are still teetering on the brink of a world-wide financial calamity.
Is Paulson smarter than Andrew Mellon? Or is it time to start saving bread scraps in tin cans?
I can tell you, as someone born and raised in Columbus, dissing the Ohio State football team is about the biggest gaffe anyone can make in Ohio.
I mean, Biden could have said he'd just come from a wild Hollywood orgy where he and Richard Fuld, president of Lehman brothers, were snorting coke, lighting treasury bills on fire, and getting butt-fucked by Ossama bin Laden, and it wouldn't be half as bad in Ohio as saying something negative about the Buckeyes.
Am I serious? I mean, we're only talking football, right? Let me tell you, the Dow could be plunging below zero and nuclear bombs going off in New York and LA, and I could call family at home on a Saturday and ask what was happening in Columbus and the response would be, "everyone's watching the Ohio State game."
Obama didn't want to win the election by winning Ohio, did he? No...much more dramatic doing it the hard way....
But then, reading this closer, Biden was talking about Delaware kicking Ohio State's ass. So maybe he was being ironic? Not sure how many Buckeye fans do irony. But if the Buckeyes win, and kick some Delaware ass, they may end up feeling more gracious about it.
Well, I'm just being a bit provocative. Actually, what they said was that people with higher "fear" reflexes tended to support more conservative ideas.
That kind of makes sense - if you're easily scared, you want your guns, religion, and torture to comfort you, don't you?
It may also explain why a stock market panic swings numbers to Obama. If Obama can scare voters as much as Bush, maybe he'll get some conservatives on his side.
But since conservatives don't believe in either evolution or science, I suppose this study won't matter to them, will it?
Clearly, Obama's ability to sound responsible during the crisis (saying he will wait for Paulson and congress to explain the details of the bailout before offering his own plan) - while McCain sounds reckless (calling for the firing of the SEC chairman and lying about Obama's tax plans) is winning over voters.
Meanwhile, Sarah Palin's appeal is crashing for McCain (and according to people attending McCain speeches, she's the only draw he has). People have finally been finding out about the Sarah Palin scandals.
So with these two trends converging, could this election turn out to be a blowout for Obama after all?
I wouldn't place my bets yet. Why?
1. On election day, the Bradley effect could still be a factor. Obama needs to be more than just a couple points ahead to feel secure about his lead in any one state. That means that there are more swing states than seem obvious.
2. If McCain's has shown one thing in this campaign, it's that he can adapt and pull out a big surprise. His campaign has made some tactical mistakes attacking the press and turning the story against himself, but don't count him out yet: there could be another big McCain surprise being cooked up as we speak. (Why do you think Bush has suddenly tried to go after Bin Laden?)
3. Palin's numbers could revive after the debates, especially if she's not given any tough questions and Biden comes across as belligerent, weak, or self-involved. The Republicans are keeping her hidden now with just this idea in mind. If she does well, don't expect to see her talk to the press ever again.
4. There are critical states - such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin - where the race is still close and where national popularity for Obama may not necessarily translate. Pennyslvania's 21 electoral votes are especially worrisome, for if Obama loses those, it would hard to make that up without winning both Ohio and Virginia, or the even bigger long-shot of Florida - which would be extremely hard to do while losing reliably democratic Pennsylvania. Even a huge Obama national margin of five points may not translate to a win in Pennyslvania, where voters believe the scare-mail and would be reluctant to vote for an African American even if he were a sixty-year-old, twice-decorated, Evangelical War Hero promising to repeal all income taxes, dismantle Wall Street and provide every citizen of the state a check for ten thousand dollars, put the head of Bin Laden on a stick in Shankstown, PA, and swearing to invade Iran, North Korea, Russia, and France.
So this election is still neck and neck. But the momentum has DECIDEDLY swung in Obama's favor this week - arguably at least a five-point shift. That's HUGE and if Obama can continue riding this wave, and have a stellar series of debates against McCain where he comes of sounding reasonable and Presidential, there is, once again, a chance that he could open up a decisive margin for victory.
One thing for certain: Obama is not in Kerry territory, where the Republican convention bounce overtakes him. He's won back the momentum, and that's huge. Reality has intruded, and this time, the Democrats have seen quite a reversal of fortunes from the hang wringing they were doing only five days ago. Seems the Presidential race is resembling the stock market, this week.
You thought you were getting screwed paying for a two-trillion dollar war in Iraq?
Well, hold on to your butt cheeks. Paulson's got another trillion dollars shove up our collective behinds.
Using all kinds of hydraulic metaphors - saying we've got to "purge" the banking system of assets that are "clogging" the system - Paulson promises to clean out the nasty waste matter.
Who's doing the cleaning? You are. So get your rotor rooter ready, my friend.
I'm no economic genius, but let me just ask this one question. Why are we giving a trillion dollars to fat-cat Wall Street bankers (Fuld, the CEO of Lehman Brothers, made 45 milion last year running his company into the ground), and nothing for homeowners struggling to pay their mortgage or watching the value of their houses plummet as foreclosures haunt their neighborhoods, if falling home prices are the root of the problem, as Paulson explains?
Why is Nancy Pelosi going along with this plan?
If we can rescue the system by rescuing the banks who created all kinds of impenetrable mortgage-backed assets in order to make millions off homeowners, why can't we rescue the homeowners who got fleeced in all of this? Sure, some homeowners took out mortgages too big for them. What about the rest of us who are seeing our biggest asset - our house - plummet?
And on top of it all: where is George "Herbert Hoover" Bush? Is he reading "My Pet Goat" again?
And McCain wants to castigate Obama for possibly taxing the fat-cats that Paulson is giving a trillion dollars to. Yeah, that's right, McCain. Not only should people like Mr Fuld make 45 million and ruin our economy to the tune of one trillion, they shouldn't have to pay any taxes on it, either.
Do you want to know who looks the best in all of this? Hillary Clinton. It was Clinton who back in March came out with a detailed plan to aggressively help homeowners stay in their homes and stabilize home prices. Think we'd be in this mess today if Clinton's plan had been enacted in March? I really don't think so.
Maybe Obama will make her Secretary of the Treasury.
I always knew Republicans wanted to fleece America for all it was worth. I just didn't think they'd be able to do it so dramatically, and with help from Nancy Pelosi, Charlie Schumer, and Barney Frank. I can only hope the Democrats force Paulson to give some of that money back to the people who are footing the bill for this colossal disaster: the taxpayers.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
Apparently, in an interview with Spanish press, McCain refused to answer whether he would meet with Zapatero, Spain's Prime Minister (this is after saying, in April, that he looked forward to meeting him.)
Apparently, the reporter had asked him after having a discussion about Latin America, so there's some confusion about whether McCain simply didn't know (couldn't remember?) that Zapatero was Prime Minister of Spain and not some Latin American country or third-world drug cartel.
McCain's reply: "All I can tell you is that I have a clear record of working with leaders in the Hemisphere that are friends with us and standing up to those who are not. And that's judged on the basis of the importance of our relationship with Latin America and the entire region."
Uh...okay. So let's say McCain was just having a senior moment here and thought Zapatero was a Latina American Zapatista rebel, or something like that. Hey, I sometimes misplace my car keys. That would have been a gaffe but nothing to get worked up over. The problem was, the reporter clarified who she was talking about, and McCain kept insisting he was correctly assuming this was some bad guy:
Interviewer: "But what about Europe? I'm talking about the President of Spain."
McCain: "What about me, what?
Interviewer: "Are you willing to meet with him if you're elected president?"
McCain: "I am wiling to meet with any leader who is dedicated to the same principles and philosophy that we are for humans rights, democracy and freedom. And I will stand up to those who do not."Uh...okay. So what gives? Does McCain think the center-left Prime Minister of Spain is an undemocratic terrorist? Or does he think Spain is some Latin American drug cartel? Hard to tell....
By the way, just in case you're not one of the coastal cultural Elites, the title of my post is a reference to a movie by Spanish director Pedro Almodovar.
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Be that as it may, I DO want to clarify a few things for new readers who assume I'm some other version of Daily Kos (which I most decidedly am not) or some blind Obama worshiper (God forbid). So let's get some things on the table.
1. I may be tallying up Palin scandals and blasting her readiness to be VP, but I do have to admit I find her likable. I thought she was eminently gracious about the Tina Fey portrayal (which was pretty scathing - but hilarious - if you ask me). For someone new to the national stage it takes a big person to let something like that pass. Her comments on the AIG bailout, "construction bonds they're holding..." may have been practically indecipherable, but they seemed a smidgen more sensible than Biden's incoherence. And she can deliver a line as well as Obama, when given the lines to read. So I don't think she doesn't have any political skill - she obviously does. I just think she's basically a small-town mayor who is more of a brow-beater than a reformer who was suddenly thrust unprepared into the national limelight. It's John McCain's risky gambit, but any reasonable person would have accepted it in her shoes.
2. Biden. Talk about a guy who has absolutely no rhetorical skill. Sheez. I didn't think one guy could be a gaffe a minute. But ya' gotta love 'em. I mean, really, after a while, making an issue about a Biden gaffe is like complaining about the sun rising in the morning. It just ain't news any more. Guess he never really did clear up that stutter. But he's a smart cookie. If he gets into the White House, he'll be one of the best VP's we've ever had.
3. I'm not an Obamabot. My woman...in the beginning...was Hillary. I switched and supported Obama in the Primaries because I thought his narrative, of being a unifier and someone who can speak about idealism and the future, was what the country needed right now. But I always saw it for what it was: political skill, nothing more. There have been points in this campaign (most notably his tour through Europe in the summer and the weeks leading up to the first convention) when he lost that skill and for me, started to feel like a typical liberal Democrat riding high on a kind of smugness of being the refreshing un-cola, anti-Republican. Not that there's anything wrong with that...but that wasn't what interested me in him. And if we were going to have smash-'em-up politics, Hillary would have been better at that. This week, however, he's redeeming himself for me...reacting well and smartly in a crisis. I find that relieving, and I suspect it's also refreshing for others who have yet to make up their minds.
4. This business about William Ayers and Obama is just silly. No one wants to cover it because it's just silly. I mean, in your life, you've must have run across someone at a truck stop or on a PTA board or something who'd once embezzled a pension fund or later hatcheted his wife to death or something like that. Six degrees of separation, yo. Who cares? Give it up already.
5. The business about Reverend Wright, however, is significant. It undercuts Obama's notion of himself as having better judgment. Supporting Wright until he blew up in his face wasn't the best display of judgment, in my opinion. But hey - I've never expected any politician to have magical judgment, so I've always thought basing a campaign on having better judgement was foolish. Hope, change, willingness to listen to opponents, and sound policies: that's what Obama can offer. Having great judgment? That's a fool's game.
6. McCain doesn't have all that great judgment either. Example one: The Keating Five. Example two: Phil Graham. I could go on.
7. So, judgment aside, if ever I would have considered voting Republican for President, it would have been for McCain. The straight-talking, war hero McCain who took on Bush and stood up against torture. But not the McCain of 2008. Since the Palin pick - actually, since he decided to kowtow to the religious right to win the nomination - McCain has been taken over by the same people who brought you Bush/Cheney. I can't stomach having those people running the country for four more years. I'm sorry McCain felt he needed to sell his soul to try to win the Presidency. But our country can't afford having the devil in the White House any longer.
8. Does Obama fumble sometimes, parse his words too carefully, have a Kerry-like tendency to professorialize rather than make a pithy point? Sure. That's frustrating in a candidate. But in a President, I think we'll find those qualities quite beneficial. It's sad that in order to win, you have to sacrifice those things that you need in order to govern.
9. McCain has decided to sacrifice everything he might need in order to govern. At this point, I don't even see what kind of Presidency he could have, based on this campaign, other than a Hoover-like disaster. That's not an indictment of McCain, the man, who in spite it all, I still rather like. It's an indictment of his campaign, and what I'm afraid would be his administration.
10. Obama still has quite a needle to thread: he's got to drive up McCain's negatives, but not so much that he doesn't still seem like a unifier. He's got to be able to distill his message into "five soundbites for fifth graders" while being able to address some of the most complex issues Americans have ever faced. He's got to reassure voters he's got what it takes to be President while still appealing to their desire for someone from "outside the beltway" to shake up the entire political system. He's got to get Americans to think past his foreign-sounding name, the color of his skin, his relative youth, and his diverse background, and believe that he can represent our country better than the white, war-hero grandpa. That's quite a monumental task, and I admit, on some days, he doesn't quite seem up to it. On other days - like the last few - he surprises us, or reassures us, or scares us - as the case may be - and does. Those are the days I have hope again, and believe that old saying, that the "darkest days are just before the dawn."
These days are dark, my friend. But the dawn could be coming. And as Obama says, it's not about him. It's about us. If Americans can see past all the hubris, nonsense, spin, and prejudice in this election - and elect the reasonable (not Godlike, but reasonable and responsible) candidate over the unreasonable (not evil, but certainly compromised and probably reckless) one - they just might find themselves capable of making a choice for our better collective future. And that day would, indeed, be very bright, and one worth fighting for.