Monday, September 29, 2008

The Politics of Apocalypse

The numbers are preposterous: a $700 billion bail-out (a figure picked out of thin air, a Treasury official conceded, just because they wanted a really big number) is rejected by 2/3 of the House members of the President's own party, and the stock market tanks for the largest one day drop in history--over 777 points--losing $1.2 trillion in value.

The predictions are all over the place: Great Depression II by today (said McCain, who also took credit for victory before the bill was defeated), apocalypse by next week, a long recession just ahead, a long recession ahead anyway, no matter what they do, etc.

The politics of it all are almost as chaotic, but a little more in focus. As Richard Wolfe said on Keith, McCain hurt himself at least four ways by his own actions in just a few days. Or as Steven Hurst wrote for the AP, "Republican John McCain has maneuvered himself into a political dead end and has five weeks to find his way out." But as others said, this is disaster for McCain no matter how you look at it.

There was also talk about this as the death rattle of the Republicans, at least in 2008. Nate Silver was a bit more analytical--of the Republicans he wrote (the elipses are his, not mine):

Their worst-case scenario for them might have been ... what just happened this afternoon. Opposing the bailout had been a political freeroll before because it wasn't manifest to the public what the risks of a nay vote would be. But with the Dow having dropped 780 points today, the risks are now painfully obvious. What had looked to be a politically prudent position 24 hours ago now looks cavalier and reckless. And yet, the Republicans will still by and large will get blamed for putting us in this predicament in the first place. Plus, the failure of the bill is an embarrassment to John McCain..."

While some faulted Obama as well, Joe Klein was among those making these points:

I do blame McCain for his puerile histrionics and for dragging this issue--which should have been above partisanship--into presidential politics. Let's make no mistake about it: his various gimmicks had absolutely nothing to do with the substance of the issue. He doesn't know all that much about the substance of the issue. The gimmicks were a failed attempt to make it seem as if he had powers, and knowledge, he didn't have.

As for Barack Obama, his visceral aversion to showboating did him a service. He laid out four requirements for his support of the bill--requests he had, clearly, coordinated with the Democratic Leadership (and which McCain supported). He made the necessary calls to keep up with the negotiations (as McCain did). He made it clear, without ostentation or fuss, that he supported the compromise. Even today, after the bill failed, Obama warned against panic and advised the Congress to get back to work and, "Get it done."

This was, I believe, eminently rational behavior in a moment of crisis. Obama didn't pretend that he could, or should, do something that he couldn't do. He didn't lead, but then, he wasn't in a position to lead. (McCain's games were the opposite of leadership--they were an unnecessary distraction.) There may be times in the future--in the next few weeks, in fact--when events will call for Obama to be a far more forceful presence. We'll see whether he has it in him. But this wasn't the time for that. It was the time for a cool head, something McCain has yet to demonstrate."

Paul Krugman was among those who thought Obama should have done more, but he also had this to say: So what do we know about the readiness of the two men most likely to end up taking that call? Well, Barack Obama seems well informed and sensible about matters economic and financial. John McCain, on the other hand, scares me....The real revelation of the last few weeks, however, has been just how erratic Mr. McCain’s views on economics are. At any given moment, he seems to have very strong opinions — but a few days later, he goes off in a completely different direction.... The modern economy, it turns out, is a dangerous place — and it’s not the kind of danger you can deal with by talking tough and denouncing evildoers. Does Mr. McCain have the judgment and temperament to deal with that part of the job he seeks? "

And while the longer these economic fears are front and center, the better it is for Obama, that could turn unpredictably. My guess is that the Democrats and Obama are going to seize the initiative on a rescue plan. They'll still have the issue of the economy and how Bush ruined it.

Politically, Obama's surge in the polls continues, up to 51% in the Daily Kos poll, with a 9 point lead over McCain. State polls continue to show Obama gains, with at last some breathing room in PA. Tomorrow will be the first tracking polls with all data after the debate.

Apart from the titanic bail-out failure, the talk today was about Sarah Palin, as CBS continues to dribble out more video, and everyone was showing the part of the devastating Saturday Night Live sketch in which Tina Fey repeats one of Palin's responses word for word, getting lots of laughs. The assault on Palin's fitness for the VP continues, and there are stories about changes in her debate prep, including, apparently, less of it, since she's being trotted back out on the campaign trial.

But what is likely for the VP debate and for the McCain-Palin campaign in general is relentless attacking of Barack Obama. Palin will try to turn every question into an attack, quoting Joe Biden whenever possible. If she's effective, the pundits may not even notice she isn't answering any questions. This will cheer the rabid right base, and then she'll be sent out in attack dog mode. The hockey mom stuff is done and gone. We won't hear her talk about herself, or a substantive issue or a constructive idea for the rest of the campaign.

And there won't be much substance from McCain either, just attack. Their ads will try to amp up the negativity, if that's possible. As ugly as it was before, it's going to get uglier now. It's McCain-Palin's only chance. But people are listening to the Obama-Biden economic message. Excessive negativity in debates turns Independents and undecideds off. Plus this economic mess is unlikely to be under control by Thursday's debate, and Palin's qualifications will be seen in the light of the need for serious people to solve very serious problems.

As for other news of the day, there was some mention of the prosecutor appointed to deal with the Justice Department firing of U.S. attorneys for political reasons, but shockingly nothing about the NY Times story pinning what amounts to a McCain version of an organized crime syndicate feeding off the gambling industry. How could this story not be important? Even on the latest (but perhaps not last) Black Monday.

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