John McCain and the Republicans have two problems when they address the meltdown on Wall Street, and both of those problems will now be with them through the end of the campaign. Fortunately for them, the Democrats have an uncanny ability to lose an election that should be a walk in the park.
The first problem for the GOP is that they have to play against type and defend it. Republicans are the party of big business, the party of entrepreneurs, the party of businessmen and businesswomen, the Chamber of Commerce party. Except when they’re not. And, yesterday, the Bush administration agreed to nationalizing AIG, the biggest insurance company in America. That’s right. The government bought it and now runs it.
I don’t remember when was the last time I heard someone advocate nationalization of an industry, although anyone who has flown on the government-run airlines of Europe, Air France, Lufthansa and the rest, should know better than to dismiss the idea out of hand. As discussed yesterday, we live in an age that has celebrated the free market’s triumph over the planned economies of former communist states and seen that triumph in eschatological terms: Francis Fukyama’s famous book was called "The End of History" not "Capitalism is Better." Nationalization was the kind of suggestion that you would expect from Dennis Kucinich, not from the Bush Administration.
Which leads to the second problem the GOP has, and this may prove even more intractable for them. For the next seven weeks, they have to speak about the economy, but all their applause lines are useless. At the GOP convention, McCain promised to get government out of the way and everyone stood and cheered. In that same speech, McCain inaccurately said Obama wants "government-run health care" but now that charge is not only inaccurate but it would sound ridiculous when the government is taking a much more activist posture than anything Obama has suggested. In March, McCain told the Wall Street Journal "I’m always for less regulation," the kind of sentiment that warms the entrepreneurial hearts, but he has suddenly had to become the champion of more regulation this week.
You would think that the Democrats would know enough to just get out of the way and let the internal contradictions of the GOP’s position take hold in the imagination of the American voter. Instead, there was Obama, playing to type, flying to Hollywood for a star-studded fundraiser that was a caricature of elitism right down to having Barbra Streisand singing. This is how it is done in Hollywood. David Geffen and his pals get together and they go through their rolodex and they raise a lot of money, but they expect the candidate or the cause to pay them homage and attend an event where everyone looks fabulous. I’m guessing Babs sang "Send in the Clowns"!
Obama should have been smart enough to send his regrets. The Hollywood folk still would have raised the money. But, on a day when Americans are worried about their finances, attending a glitzy fundraiser that netted $9 million was not the way for Obama to show his down-to-earth credentials. Obama gave away some of his advantage by appearing as out-of-touch personally and the GOP has become fiscally. He partially made up for it with the release of a new ad that is the best I’ve seen this year: serious, thoughtful, presidential.
Michael Sean Winters