Tuesday, September 16, 2008

McCain's Plan for Economic Tsunami: Tread Water

Rocked back on its heels by the implosion of some of America's biggest financial institutions, the McCain campaign is employing a new tactic that should be familiar to anyone who has ever seen a comedy movie, a sitcom, or a cartoon: they're stalling.

You know the comedies moments I'm talking about. It's the chase scene where the bad guys come looking for the protagonist, and some beautiful woman distracts them and says, misleadingly, "He went that-a-way!" Or it's the love scene, where the jealous and suspicious husband comes home early from a business trip, and the wife has only seconds to secret away her paramour somewhere her husband won't look. Or it's every other episode ever of Saved by the Bell, where Mr. Belding is onto those pesky Bayside kids' schemes, and Screech or Lisa has to confuse or divert him until Zack et al. can escape. Classic moments of hilarity.

The difference is that this is no comedy. In fact, if we elect a man who has no idea how to fix the economy -- heck, a man who doesn't even think the economy is broken -- his stalling could turn into an American tragedy.

Exhibit A in the case of McCain v. Economic Crisis is McCain's own words today, in which he called for a "9/11 commission to find out what happened and what needs to be fixed."

Respectfully, we don't need a 9/11 commission to find out what went wrong, for two reasons. First, this isn't a whodunnit. It's fairly open-and-shut. People gave mortgages and loans and credit lines to bad credit risks, and then tried to spread risks (and wealth) by parceling up those mortgages and loans and credit lines and selling them to the highest bidder. Billions and billions of dollars were spent on mortgages that weren't worth a tinker's damn, and the bottom finally fell out of the whole shooting match.

Second, we already have an organism in place to investigate financial crises, fraud, excess speculation, et cetera. You might have heard of it. It's called "Congress."

McCain went on to say, "I know what's wrong, and I know how to fix it." At the same time, McCain reminded Harry Smith on CBS This Morning, "I was chairman of the Commerce Committee. Every part of the American economy, I oversighted [sic]. I have a long record, certainly far more extensive of being involved in our economy than Sen. Obama does."

Fantastic. He's been in office since 1982, when I was 13 months old -- 26 years! If he has known what's wrong, and how to fix it, why hasn't he done it? Why is today, September 16, 2008, the first time we've heard him talk about it?

John McCain during an earlier financial crisis, the "Keating Five" scandal, which nearly led to the stillbirth of his Senate career.

The reason McCain knows what's wrong is because he has been a part of the problem, or at least a passive, uninterested bystander. John McCain and the Republicans saying they're going to fix the problem when they get to the White House is a little like massive amounts of cash going missing from a till while you're the clerk on duty and then promising to track down the wrongdoers if you can only, pretty please, be promoted to store manager.

As any animal owner knows, the best way to know whether a dog's gonna bite is to know whether he's bitten before. McCain has bitten before. He's long described himself as "fundamentally a deregulator." He has made a career of the Goldwater philosophy, cutting through rules, regulations, and safeguards for the American public to make things simple, to do as his wife said at the Republican Convention and get the government "out of our way!"

And now the American people are hurting, crying out for more oversight, more protections, more rules and referees to make sure that never again will the "Masters of the Universe" land daintily on their private islands using golden parachutes while the rest of us -- taxpayers and stockholders and jobless ex-employees -- are left to clean up their mess. And John McCain just doesn't get it. He's incapable of understanding the importance of sound regulations.

He just doesn't get that the American people are sick and tired of these careless Tom and Daisy Buchanans who "smash things up and retreat into their money." I doubt he'll get it until Cindy McCain can't afford $300,000 outfits and their kids can't afford $50,000 balances on their American Express cards anymore.

But he's starting to get it just enough to realize that he's got to stop telling Americans it's all in their head, and he's treading water, going through the motions, trying like the dickens to throw America off his scent long enough for him to squeak into the presidency by the skin of his teeth. (I love mixed metaphors, by the way.)

Last night, the McCain campaign tried to squeeze a couple more days' worth of news out of Sarah Palin by announcing it would defy the requests of the Alaska legislature to comply with an investigation into Palin's possible abuses of power while governor. The press didn't bite. The economy was too important.

Then today, McCain's top domestic policy guru Douglas J. Holtz-Eakin tried to say McCain could handle the economy because, after all, he'd helped create the BlackBerry. And then, sensing reporters might be about as inclined to buy that as they were that Al Gore invented the internet, Holtz-Eakin went on to say that although McCain had a plan for the economy, it wasn't important "to write down exactly what the plan has to be. [...] I think that the moment when we write down a specific plan is the moment we send legislation out from a McCain administration to Congress. That’s the moment that happens.’’

I have about as much faith in John McCain's secret plan for the economy as savvy people had for Richard Nixon's secret plan to end the war in Vietnam. This is a guy who has said not once, not twice, but at least 16 times over the past nine months, that "the fundamentals of our economy are strong," as the economy has careened out of control and greed has continued unchecked.

John McCain is stalling, stonewalling the American people with oblivious and empty rhetoric. He's trying his dead-level best to keep us all occupied until November. Here's hoping We the People are a lot smarter than Mr. Belding.

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