This is not to say that McCain knows what to do. Faced with an unprecedented financial crisis involving frozen global credit markets and a maelstrom of moral hazard, his standard response is to talk about wiping out earmarks and eliminating waste, fraud and abuse. Memo to Mr. McCain: Waste, fraud and abuse are the only things holding the system together at this point.
Obama is no better. The man has spent two weeks irresponsibly excoriating his opponent for saying the fundamentals of the economy are strong - a perfectly leaderly thing for McCain to have said during a panic. Then, campaigning in Colorado on Monday, the day the Dow plunged 777.68 points, Obama proclaimed: "We've got the long-term fundamentals that will really make sure this economy grows."
Perhaps after al-Qaida seizes Baghdad, a President Obama would finally declare, "Hey, we can win this thing!"
Meanwhile, President Bush, his popularity ratings stuck at below-freezing numbers, has decided to cling to Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson for warmth on the grounds that the vaunted former Goldman Sachs CEO has the credibility to sell the solution to a problem he's been exacerbating for 18 months. When a reporter for Forbes magazine asked a Treasury spokesman last week why Congress had to lay out $700 billion, the answer came back: "It's not based on any particular data point. We just wanted to choose a really large number."
There's a confidence builder.
As for the reputedly free-market purists of the congressional GOP, with whom my sympathies generally lie, I cannot let pass without comment the fact that they controlled the legislative branch for most of the last eight years. Only now, when capitalism is in flames, does this fire brigade try to enforce the free-market fire codes without compromise.
I loathe populism. But if there ever has been a moment when reasonable men's hands itch for the pitchfork, this must surely be it. No one is blameless. No one is pure. Two decades of crapulence by the political class has been prologue to the era of coprophagy that is now upon us. It is crap sandwiches for as far as the eye can see.
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