Thursday, September 18, 2008

New York Times: McCain laboring to hit right note on economy

This is an interesting New York Times story that I found via The Huffington Post. From The New York Times:

VIENNA, Ohio — On Monday morning, as the financial system absorbed one of its biggest shocks in generations, Senator John McCain said, as he had many times before, that he believed the fundamentals of the economy were “strong.”

Hours later he backpedaled, explaining that he had meant that American workers, whom he described as the backbone of the economy, were productive and resilient. By Tuesday he was calling the economic situation “a total crisis” and denouncing “greed” on Wall Street and in Washington.

The sharp turnabout in tone and substance reflected a recognition not only that Mr. McCain had struck a discordant note at a sensitive moment but also that he had done so with regard to the very issue on which he can least afford to stumble.

With economic conditions worsening over the course of this year and voter anxiety on the rise, Mr. McCain has had to labor to get past the impression — fostered by his own admissions as recently as last year that the subject is not his strongest suit — that he lacks the experience and understanding to address the nation’s economic woes.

In the most recent case, he first sought to explain away his remarks about the economy’s fundamental soundness by saying he had been referring to the American people, almost daring his Democratic rival, Senator Barack Obama, to contradict him on that score. But within hours his aides were scheduling appearances for him Tuesday on all the morning television news shows so that he could try to erase the notion, being promoted aggressively by Democrats, that he was out of touch.

His campaign also sent to reporters the text of a speech he was delivering later Monday that included much starker language about the nation’s financial troubles, and by Tuesday had produced a new advertisement asserting that his experience and leadership were necessary in a “time of crisis.” Aides and advisers repeated to anyone who would listen the words that Mr. McCain has frequently spoken following his comments about the economy’s fundamental strengths: that “these are very, very difficult times.”

Beyond striking a more populist tone and more explicitly acknowledging the nation’s economic problems, his campaign also began an effort Tuesday to cast him as a strong leader with profound experience on economic issues, given his service on the Senate Commerce Committee, where he was chairman for six years. That effort quickly hit a pothole when one of his economic advisers suggested that he had helped to create the BlackBerry, by virtue of his role in brokering telecommunications legislation; the McCain campaign later disavowed that, calling the suggestion “boneheaded.”

For much of this year, Mr. McCain has seemed to struggle to strike a balance between conveying the optimism that many voters want in their leaders, and the I-feel-your-pain empathy that they crave during hard times. His task is complicated by the tension between his plans to continue many of the economic policies of the unpopular incumbent Republican president he hopes to succeed, and his pledges to improve the American economy and shake up Washington.

John McCain has a huge problem here--he has consistently flip-flopped on presenting his views of the U.S. economy. Ever since he started his presidential campaign, John McCain has argued that the U.S. economy is still strong, that the U.S. is not heading into a recession, and the recession fears were "psychological." But now with the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the Fed buyout of AIG, John McCain has had to reverse himself--especially regarding the AIG bailout, when McCain first opposed, and the supported the bailout. In response to the financial crisis hitting Wall Street, John McCain's proposal on dealing with this crisis is to convene a commission to study the crisis. John McCain rails at Wall Street greed that caused the financial crisis, while 83 Wall Street lobbyists work on the McCain campaign staff. McCain claims that he will "clean up Wall Street," however, McCain's senatorial record shows that McCain is a consistent supporter of government deregulation. As of September 15th, McCain still claimed that the "fundamentals" of the American economy were still strong, but then backpedaled in stating that the "fundamentals" really meant the American worker.

It is like John McCain had no economic policy to present, or even worst, it is an economic policy of a Bush third term, complete with more tax cuts to the rich, more government deregulation for corporate interests, and more destruction of the government's social safety net. This is not the kind of platform to run on, when Americans are worried about their economic future, when the U.S. economy is slowing down, and when there is financial panic on Wall Street over the financial industries over-leveraging of subprime mortgage-backed investments. The McCain campaign is only now realizing this. So there has been this sudden reversal by the McCain campaign from a personality-based campaign--John McCain the POW--to a populist, reformist-based campaign--John McCain the reformer. This is especially ironic since a political candidate that takes up a populist, reformist image, is one who advocates change in the political system. Throughout his campaign, John McCain has never advocated that he was a president who would bring change to the White House--John McCain was the man who would bring experience into the White House. John McCain was the man who would bring character--McCain was a POW--into the White House. John McCain was a man who would bring honor--I'd rather lose an election than lose a war--into the White House. But with the financial crisis taking place this week, and with Americans focusing their worries on the economy, John McCain had to reinvent himself, again, to pander to the American voter. So John McCain has decided to co-opt Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's message of change for McCain's own message. Only it is a McCain change message of hollow, meaningless words, designed simply to solicit votes for a McCain presidency that would continue a Bush legacy of more tax cuts to the rich, more government deregulation, more lobbyists and special interest access to a McCain White House, and perhaps a neocon continuation of more wars in Iraq, Georgia, Iran, or even Russia. It doesn't matter what the message is. It only matters that the message convinces enough voters to send John McCain into the White House.

And in the case of the economy, the McCain campaign is still trying to find the right, hollow, meaningless, message.

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