Friday, September 26, 2008


I put words in McCain's and Obama's mouths over at the Culture 11 website. In it, implicitly I suggest that McCain should play to his strengths - using analogies of military self-sacrifice and his correctness about the "Surge" - to speak with authority about the economic crisis. Also - quite implausibly - I suggest that he should issue a national call for self-reflection about our own complicity in the crisis, and devote a McCain presidency to restoring virtues of frugality and self-governance. Unlikely, from a man who taunted Obama for suggesting that we could save gas by properly inflating our tires. Obama was right, and more generally, should have been praised for recommending ways that changes in our personal behavior can have significant public benefits.

By contrast, I suggest (again, implicitly) that Obama must overcome his greatest weakness - his inability to connect to "Red" America, or Reagan Democrats. I offer a bit of red meat populism, a call for an economy that rewards the lower and middle class, not the wealthiest, and an effort to paint these commitments as the most fundamental form of "traditional values." Obama began his campaign by an attempt to appeal to "values voters" and the Left swooned, but the fact is, he has never succeeded in attracting them (they seem to like the female candidates this year). He will likely win the election by default against a cratering economy and a clueless McCain, but his inability to draw these voters to his side intimates that he will be a one-term President unless he can build an electoral base that goes beyond easily-disillusioned and distracted college students.


Black Sea said...

I don't get the sense that most Americans feel - or are likely to feel - that they have "complicity in the crisis." I'm not living in the States, of course, but my sense is that most Americans see Wall Street much as the ancient Greeks saw the gods of Olympus. No one understands their caprices, though we fear them.

As for personal profligacy, it is very much connected to your suggested rhetoric for Obama. A sizable chunk of the American populace has not proportionately profitted from the economic growth of the past 25 years, and a lot of people haven't profitted at all. One can certainly make the case that the American working class is substantially worse off than in 1980. These people might be likely to reply that they don't like living on credit, but are doing so in order to keep their heads above water, and they don't need any lectures on thrift from a man married to a beer heiress with . . . whatever it is, six homes or something like that.

By the way, I'm not saying that Americans shouldn't be thriftier, I'm just trying to anticipate a downside political reaction. Plus, there is the problem that a call for thrift and self-reflection is a downer, and right now, we need an upper. Look what happened to Jimmy Carter, etc.

As for Obama's call for an economy that rewards the lower and middle class, he'll likely be asked (if the press bothers to do its job) just how he's going to pull that one off. Free trade restrictions won't wash with the monied class, and would probably make the economy worse. (It's going to be tough to convince the Chinese to keep loaning us money if we restrict imports of all the stuff they produce, plus - if we restrict the imports of their goods - where are they going to find the money to loan us?)

There is also the problem that people love really cheap electronics.

Obama could advocate a freeze on working class immigrants, who do of course drive down wages, but that's hardly Obama's gig, or the Democratic party's, for that matter. Plus, he'd again get on the wrong side of the monied class, which is a fast way to lose an election.

If he goes the route you suggest, he'll probably just advocate a raise in the minimum wage, better job training, improvements in education, blah, blah, blah, none of which will make any significant difference, though it appeals to his base without alienating anybody in particular.

From the longer-term persepctive, I suspect America will encounter a series of problems over the coming decades that are beyond the capacity of our political leadership, and perhaps of our political process, to successfully confront.

One of the more amusing things I've seen on the net recently:

"Optimists buy gold; pessimists buy bullets."

Patrick Deneen said...

I don't disagree with you - and I am certain that no politician would dare say something that would challenge the comfortable assumptions of the populace (and our deep-seated habit of blaming everyone else). And, yes, any such call would be compared to Carter's "malaise" speech. Which, it turns out, was right - had we heeded his call to devote the nation to energy independence and living within our means, we wouldn't be in this particular fix. McCain might have a chance of making this sort of appeal, given his status as a veteran and prisoner of war (it would fall flat coming from Obama), but it would be a long shot at best. Doubtlessly the press, and his own party, would tear him to pieces (that would be an interesting coalition). So, it may be what he SHOULD say, but clearly wouldn't dare.