Despite Sen. Obama's uplifting, if clever, speech Tuesday, the Democratic Party presidential contest looks more like a contest of racial identity. However, Democratic partisans take at least some comfort in the growing evidence of an impending recession. (What a cheerful party they are.) The hope is for a good deep recession that will drive the fearful American voters into the tender embrace of their presidential standard-bearer -- no matter how bloodied he or she may be at the end of their civil war of a primary season.
And what a season it is turning into. Hillary "Stonewall" Clinton -- the Wellesley Eurosocialist of the 1960s -- has turned herself into the great white hope of the pickup truck and gun rack voters of 2008. I half expect her campaign plane to fly the Confederate flag proudly as it takes her to the Robert E. Lee catfish fry and bourbon night in backwoods Georgia.
Like her political inspiration, Richard Milhous Nixon, she has developed her own Southern strategy of appealing to the resentment of blacks by poor, uneducated Democratic Party white folk. She just received 70 percent of the Mississippi white people's vote and now is reaching out to the old Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo anti-black vote in the City of Brotherly Love. If she loses the nomination fight, she may pull a Strom Thurmond and form a Dixiecrat third-party ticket. Perhaps she could choose Bobby Byrd, the former pride of the Ku Klux Klan, for her running mate.
Not to be outdone in this political mondo-bizarro season, inexperienced, fresh-off-the-turnip-truck Barack Obama is running as a racial healer -- after having been guided spiritually for the past two decades by his mentor and family preacher, a fervent, white-devil-hating, America-damning, Sept. 11-cheering, HIV-conspiracy-believing eccentric. In his speech Tuesday, elegant as it was, Obama seemed to be saying something to the effect of: "Live with it, America; that is the way many people feel." As the speech gets understood more fully, it is likely to polarize the election cycle further. It is a commentary on the sorry state of the Republican Party that one of these two oddities is favored heavily to be elected president of the United States.
Meanwhile, the GOP presumptive nominee, John "I always do it the hard way" McCain, who honorably and correctly has championed the unpopular Iraq war, decided to double down on the proud claim that, as we go into what may be the worst economic crash since the Great Depression, he doesn't know much about economics. Nor does he talk about it much.
But here is where he may be able to steal a march on the Democrats. They assume, not unreasonably, that the GOP candidate will be blamed for the bad economy and will try to avoid the issue. But rather than following his instincts to talk mainly about foreign and defense matters, McCain should engage the Democrats and the public intensely on the full policy implications of the impending financial- and currency-crises-induced recession.
Just talking a lot about his concerns for the public's economic needs is important. Republicans never have learned the political truth that the Democrats learned a century ago: If the public doesn't hear a party talk about its concerns, it reasonably assumes the party doesn't care.
But in this instance, McCain can do more than show he cares (although he needs to do that a lot). If the economy is going to be as bad as most experts expect, the public will not tolerate a Republican Party that refuses to propose some governmental interventions. That was the argument of Herbert Hoover's treasury secretary, Andrew Mellon: Liquidate labor, real estate, stocks, farmers, etc.; clear out the dry rot, and wait for recovery. If that is all the GOP offers, it will lose in a historic landslide -- and would deserve to.
There are policies that may help a lot. We must protect the housing market from being flooded with many millions of foreclosed homes. It would not only wipe out millions of families who were foreclosed on but also would crash the value of everybody else's homes for many years. McCain should develop and quickly and repeatedly call for such protections. Other interventions also may be necessary, perhaps including some re-regulation of financial institutions.
At the same time, he should challenge the Democrats to explain how, during a recession that will reduce government tax revenues sharply and require hundreds of billions of dollars of housing relief, they are going to pay for all the goodies they are promising. As Nicholas von Hoffman pointed out in The Nation: "The billions that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama would have had to spend (on universal health care, teachers' salaries, infrastructure, decent-paying jobs for laid-off workers, etc., will) not exist."
McCain should challenge the Democrats to explain under what theory raising taxes -- even on the filthy rich -- during a recession will help lead to recovery rather than drive the recession deeper.
To the extent that the public is looking for a strong commander in chief, McCain already has those votes. Of course, he should continue to make his defense and foreign policy points.
But this election will be won or lost on the economy. And McCain must make hard times his friend. On that issue, don't yield an inch to your Democratic Party opponent, senator, and Election Day may be yours yet.
Regretfully, the Democrats may be right to live in hope of being saved by a collapsing economy.
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