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The Collective
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
By Dr. Steven Taylor

In his WaPo column (McCain Loses His Head) takes McCain to task for one of his early responses to the financial crisis last week, his calling for SEC Chairman Chris Cox’s firing:

Channeling his inner Queen of Hearts, John McCain furiously, and apparently without even looking around at facts, said Chris Cox, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, should be decapitated. This childish reflex provoked the Wall Street Journal to editorialize that “McCain untethered” — disconnected from knowledge and principle — had made a “false and deeply unfair” attack on Cox that was “unpresidential” and demonstrated that McCain “doesn’t understand what’s happening on Wall Street any better than Barack Obama does.”

This reminds me of Steve Bainbridge (a McCain supporter) who stated at the time in regards to McCain’s rant against Cox: “There’s so much stupidity here, it’s hard to know where to begin.”

Will connects the statements about Cox to broader McCain modes of behavior:

McCain’s smear — that Cox “betrayed the public’s trust” — is a harbinger of a McCain presidency. For McCain, politics is always operatic, pitting people who agree with him against those who are “corrupt” or “betray the public’s trust,” two categories that seem to be exhaustive — there are no other people. McCain’s Manichaean worldview drove him to his signature legislative achievement, the McCain-Feingold law’s restrictions on campaigning.

Not exactly soothing words given current events.

He concludes:

It is arguable that, because of his inexperience, Obama is not ready for the presidency. It is arguable that McCain, because of his boiling moralism and bottomless reservoir of certitudes, is not suited to the presidency. Unreadiness can be corrected, although perhaps at great cost, by experience. Can a dismaying temperament be fixed?

A legitimate question. Neither scenario is especially comforting, to be sure. Still, I think that as the financial crisis settles into the mind of Americans it will reshuffle the way the candidates are viewed.

On the bailout specifically, Will writes:

The political left always aims to expand the permeation of economic life by politics. Today, the efficient means to that end is government control of capital. So, is not McCain’s party now conducting the most leftist administration in American history? The New Deal never acted so precipitously on such a scale. Treasury Secretary Paulson, asked about conservative complaints that his rescue program amounts to socialism, said, essentially: This is not socialism, this is necessary. That non sequitur might be politically necessary, but remember that government control of capital is government control of capitalism. Does McCain have qualms about this, or only quarrels?

These are all rather serious questions. Further, it strikes me that we seem to be heading into socialism sans the benefits, i.e., without the social programs.

One of the odd legacies (at least for an alleged fiscal conservative) of the Bush tenure in office has been a remarkable increase in the size and power of the federal government. Even before the current situation, which is, at least, the result of an acute crisis, we had the expansion of Medicare, massive spending on a war of choice in Iraq and the expansion of the government’s police powers under aegis of the War on Terror.

The financial implications of these policies are pretty clear, but there are certainly political ones as well. For example, I do wonder if the combination of understandable feelings of insecurity in the population, the serious weakness of the GOP for the foreseeable future, and the clear demonstration of late that it at least appears that money can be found if we really want it, that we will not see an increased demand by the population for new social programs, most specifically for health care. In terms of very simplistic approaches to politics (and sometimes, that is the best way to understand why things happen), I can certainly see large swaths of the population no longer being willing to accept the argument that “we can’t afford it.” Further, the need to bailout the financial sector damages arguments about the virtues of the private sector vice government. Beyond that, I think that the bailout of the financial sector will stoke class resentment, as many will perceive this entire situation as nothing more than saving a bunch of rich white guys. As such, the argue will emerge along the lines of: if the feds can find piles of cash to help the wealthy, surely it can find the cash to help the rest of us.

Of course, having spent borrowed the money to do all of these things, the political will for such reforms may emerge, but getting the cash is a whole other matter. A clear legacy of the last eight years will be a severely hampered federal government (raising serious questions, btw, of the policy programs being proffered by both candidates).

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14 Comments »

  1. Conservative Columnist George Will Calls McCain “A Flustered Rookie Playing in a League Too High” …

    by Damozel | Specifically, he compares McCain to the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland, whose only anger management technique was to screech, Off with his head!Under the pressure of the financial crisis, one presidential candidate is behaving li…

    Trackback by Buck Naked Politics — Tuesday, September 23, 2008 @ 9:48 am

  2. Further, it strikes me that we seem to be heading into socialism sans the benefits, i.e., without the social programs.

    To reiterate the comment I made a couple of days ago-I don’t think it is really appropriate to even invoke “socialism” to describe Bush’s proposal.

    The bailout is more along the lines of an oligopolic capitalism since the proposal apparently is only concerned with the government acquisition of the devalued liabilities of elite financial institutions.

    People revert to the “socialism” tag when they see government get involved in the economy-[notwithstanding the fact that all modern capitalist economies are essentially Keynesian anyway.]

    But just because the government assumes a more activist stance vis a vis the financial markets, this does not mean we are somehow becoming more “socialist.” It is just a different form of capitalist interventionism.

    As an aside, who/what in the world is Will taking about when he says that “The political left always aims to expand the permeation of economic life by politics”???

    The modern bureaucratic state is inherently concerned with economic regulation-aside from radical libertarians and anarchists, ALL of modern politics is concerned-at its most fundamental level-with how to deal with market failure.

    And Will’s comment about the “political left” is

    Comment by Ratoe — Tuesday, September 23, 2008 @ 9:59 am

  3. I could easily live with “statist.”

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Tuesday, September 23, 2008 @ 10:19 am

  4. Of course, Will clearly does not like McCain’s “signature legislative achievement” even though it was actually fairly significant and the sort of thing a “reformer” reputation my be built around. Then again, McCain can’t invoke it as a reason for voting for him, because of people like Will who don’t like it. How strange.

    (There is perhaps one other “signature accomplishment” in the Senate that could be mentioned: finessing torture-something that might also be hard to build one’s reputation as a torture victim around.)

    Comment by MSS — Tuesday, September 23, 2008 @ 12:11 pm

  5. Seems to me that both Will and PoliBlogger commit the error of assuming that any state intervention in the economy is “socialism.” However, I did catch PoliBlogger’s tag line “without the benefits.”

    State ownership without socially distributed benefits is simply state capitalism. Or the ultimate in corporate welfare, rather than the social kind.

    Comment by MSS — Tuesday, September 23, 2008 @ 12:15 pm

  6. Sorry, one more…

    I don’t think there is any “odd legacy” here. I don’t see how anyone who looked objectively at either the Nixon, Reagan, or Bush I legacies could say that the GOP, as a governing party, was a party of small government, free markets, or fiscal responsibility.

    It has always been about massive subsidies to large corporations (especially, but by no means only, those in the euphemistically named ‘defense’ sector) and-since Reagan (other than the brief outbreak of sanity that cost Bush I a second term)-the transfer of wealth from future generations to the most privileged of the current one.

    Given that Bush II represented the first case of unified GOP government since the essentially nonpartisan and non-ideological Eisenhower years, there is nothing at all “odd” about what is occurring.

    And as I noted the other day, much of what is going on currently (and not only on the financial risk-shifting) is about an authoritarian government tying the hands of its successor. Nothing odd there. I think a course in Regime Change would give one the tools to predict it! :-)

    Comment by MSS — Tuesday, September 23, 2008 @ 12:25 pm

  7. Certainly I cannot argue with the notion that we lack a viable party dedicated to small government, fiscal responsibility and fiscal responsibility. Certainly the years of unified government under the GOP proved that.

    However, I still maintain that the legacy is a odd one, as this is hardly where most, even the biggest of Bush critics early on, would have expected. The combo of war debt, medicare expansion and financial bailout is quite the trifecta. But beyond that, I really do think that the whole situation could cause a perceptual about the government. If anything, it isn’t the expected legacy-and certainly not on this scale.

    I take the point on hand-tying, and while we share much in our critiques of this admin, we do differ on issue of whether it is appropriate to label it an “authoritarian regime” or whether we can call the move from one administration to another as “regime change” (and I know that part of that is our differing classification of the events of 2000). I will not argue that this administration hasn’t acted in an authoritarian manner at times-and I have said so, although clearly more cautiously than you would :). It is all quite disquieting, to put it mildly.

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Tuesday, September 23, 2008 @ 1:00 pm

  8. McCain has a temper and Palin has a quick-temper. She has said that she will not blink in an emergency. She will push that red button in a hurry. That to me is scary in itself. These are two hot-heads who should never get anywhere near the Oval Office. If there are people who do not want a black president, I think they should leave the country and not take the rest of us down with them by electing these two.

    Comment by CodeSense — Tuesday, September 23, 2008 @ 1:59 pm

  9. WHAT’S THE BIG RUSH???
    The consequences of a bailout
    will affect us negatively for decades.
    Why not follow Newt’s advice, and
    take the time to explore other options.
    Bring in the experts who helped Reagan
    turn our economy around. Measure twice,
    cut once !!!

    Comment by Howard — Tuesday, September 23, 2008 @ 2:54 pm

  10. As someone who was raised with the the privileges of upper middle class and who has now become lower middle class due to a family health crisis (and yes, we were covered), it’s clear that you’re right-the lower classes will resent this, the resentment already runs deep at the current time. Why? Because in reality, the government is insuring the wealth of the wealthy and the five-year stagnant job market and freeze on salaries for the middle incomes has put nearly everyone in debt or forced people to sell homes, go without health care, or have their children take out astronomical loans for college. We are no different than India, we have a more defined caste system that ever before.

    And I would appreciate it if someone could tell me why or how the Merrill Lynch CEO can walk away with 121 million retirement package? Why does he feel entitled to this money? Why is this kind of inequity allowed? He hasn’t worked harder and is no smarter than a high school math teacher…so in essence, I’m helping to pay his 121 million send off package. How does that make any kind of sense? Or the 22 mil to the Lehman’s CEO?

    True, Obama is inexperienced, which is why Hillary should have been the nominee-I think she may be the only one who could pull the country out of this. Obama is empathetic, smart, a good orator, a great thinker..Hillary is a workhorse and has been her whole life. As for McCain, I wouldn’t vote for him due to his temper, his seeming mental instability and his words mean nothing. While I admire him for serving our country and feel compassionate about the torture he endured, he clearly has psychological issues. He is Nixonian in word, deed and manner. And yes, he can use the Internet-people without arms use it every day. He takes a Checkers approach to everything. American will explode with him at the helm.

    Comment by Gloria — Tuesday, September 23, 2008 @ 3:26 pm

  11. DEMOCRATS should read all the stories circulating today about how former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan warned congress back in April that legislation was needed to prevent the melt down we’re now experiencing … but, the democrats blocked it. These are the same democrats who want us to elect them in November.

    Comment by Howard — Tuesday, September 23, 2008 @ 5:27 pm

  12. It will be hilarious to see Obama win by 90%. Hillary does not know how many people hate her, that’s why she lost the primaries. Obama will win on the economy, because Sarah Palin’s glory days are through. The Republicans are losing their base, because no one wants to be incriminated and issued a subpeona. In this country, you are innocent until issued a subpeona.

    Comment by Daniel — Tuesday, September 23, 2008 @ 10:36 pm

  13. When an agency with no authority to determine elections, other than that which it arrogates to itself, steps in to stop an ongoing recount, simply because that count might change the result ‘certified’ by the campaign manager of the ‘leading’ candidate in one state, I don’t know what to call it. ‘Coup’ works for me.

    I will always regard the Bush government as illegitimate, and would have even had it governed in a responsible, democratic manner. Which it did not even attempt to do.

    And it certainly looks like hand-tying to me. And more shock and awe and ‘emergency’ and so on. There are some signs that Dems are growing a spine and willing to use their majority. But I remain pessimistic.

    Comment by MSS — Wednesday, September 24, 2008 @ 4:53 pm

  14. I am not arguing with the hand-tying.

    Our main disagree here is that the SC had no authority or that it stepped in, per se. The entire path to the Court was set in motion by state-level court filings in the first place and the SC does have appellate jurisdiction over the state SC. One could argue that they should have refused the case, or one could argue that they wrongly decided the case. That they had not right to hear the case, I think, is a more difficult argument to make.

    As I understand it, the Gore campaign’s more legitimate route would have been to challenge the vote in the Congress, but that route was not pursued. It would have been helpful as well if they demanded a full recount rather than one aimed at counties likely beneficial to themselves.

    I just think that coup is too strong a term and that regime change is the incorrect description. But I expect we aren’t going to ever come to full agreement here.

    I know that we can agree that the administration has been a disaster and we can leave it at that, I guess.

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Thursday, September 25, 2008 @ 2:27 pm

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