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'Now What, President McCain?' (A 'What If' Editorial)

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

On Jan. 21, 2009, President John McCain took office.

We strongly editorialized against McCain's election. After all, it was he who said, "The issue of economics is not something I've understood as well as I should." So not only did we warn you -- he warned you.


We urged American voters to set aside their racist fears of electing to the presidency the son of a Kenyan sheepherder and a white woman from Kansas. We contrasted McCain's tired, discredited vision for the American economy with that of the young, dashing senator from Illinois by way of Hawaii, Barack Obama. We predicted that under McCain's stewardship our severely ailing economy would get worse. In fact, we underestimated how bad things would get -- and how quickly.

Two and a half years later, the numbers don't lie:

Unemployment rate of 9.1 percent; 24 million Americans unemployed or underemployed; a lousy 1.8 percent gross domestic product increase last quarter; gasoline prices at nearly $4 a gallon (or doubled since he took office); farm prices on corn up 164 percent, in part because of the use of corn for ethanol (a product without a market if not for farm subsidies); higher prices on cattle because of costlier corn feed; and higher prices on other goods because of higher transportation costs.

More grim numbers:

Over $3.7 trillion in new debt; debt, as a percent of GDP, now tops 100 percent, up from 75 percent; $1.6 trillion deficit -- more than triple the '08 deficit; fears of inflation after repeated rounds of Federal Reserve "quantitative easing" -- creating new money to supposedly stimulate borrowing and investing; bailouts of banks, insurance companies, auto companies and other businesses deemed too big to fail; depressed consumer confidence; a quarter of homeowners "upside-down," owing more on their mortgage than the value of their house.


We warned you.

Behind those cold numbers stand human beings who suffer. Yes, the stock market has mostly recovered, small comfort to the out-of-work. People ask: Do McCain's disastrous economic polices mean that America now enters a "new normal" -- tepid job growth that fails to keep pace with new entrants to the job market, let alone enough growth to dent the high unemployment number? Not exactly a "shining city upon a hill."

McCain recently claimed that he "saved" the domestic auto industry and that Chrysler "has repaid every dime and more of what it owes American taxpayers." No, it hasn't. Furthermore, taxpayers will never recoup some $14 billion in loans to the auto industry.

Remember the silly nightmare scenario McCain claimed would play out under "ObamaCare" -- Sen. Obama's ambitious plan for universal health coverage? McCain mocked Obama for saying that, under his plan: "If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor. ... If you like your health care plan, you will be able to keep your health care plan."

McCain called the promise impossible to keep. He said Obama's claim that his plan "would not add to the deficit" relied on politically unlikely cuts to Medicare and/or higher taxes that would hurt small businesses. McCain predicted higher, not lower, health care costs. He predicted that businesses, states and the politically connected would push for waivers. He even predicted that a majority of the state attorneys general would call ObamaCare unconstitutional, specifically the mandate that everyone must purchase health insurance or pay a fine.


We'll never know. But, really, how bad could it have been under Obama?

McCain gleefully pounced on the senator's "game-changing" encounter with "Joe the Plumber," when Obama sensibly promised to "spread the wealth." "Socialist!" screamed the Reaganites at Fox News. A vote for Obama, they said, is a vote for European-style "job-killing" socialism.

Instead, we got McCain.

Obama electrified us with his call for "hope and change." He promised a "stimulus" package of nearly $1 trillion to "save or create" 3.5 million jobs. He promised to "invest" in green technologies of the future. He promised a "world-class" education for every man, woman and child -- with the federal government taking over the student loan program to eliminate the costs imposed by middleman-banks. He promised new regulations to rein in Wall Street greed. He promised new regulations on bank credit card fees, as well as new EPA rules on industry and factories in order to fight climate change.

We'll never know. But imagine how much better off our economy would have been under Obama.

"Recovery Summer" is the term the McCain White House used to describe its expectations for last summer. The economic team laughingly pointed to the so-called "green shoots," which supposedly signaled brighter days of rapid job growth and rising incomes. "Recovery Summer" is to the McCain administration what "Mission Accomplished" was to President George W. Bush's. Two and a half years into the McCain presidency, our economy remains sluggish. This recovery flat-out pales in comparison with those of past economic downturns.


Eighteen months remain in McCain's first, and hopefully only, term. Incredibly, given these dismal economic numbers, he asks for a second. Must we warn you again?

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