And now for the preliminary political post-mortems of John McCain’s failed bid for the presidency. The Wall Street Journal this morning analyses what went wrong and the conclusion seems clear: McCain badly bungled his response to the financial crisis.
It was never going to be easy for McCain. As the chosen candidate of the incumbent party, economic woes were bound to weigh him down. But a more agile campaign might have made the crisis work to its advantage. Instead, McCain’s campaign seems to have freezed up at every turn, allowing Barack Obama to define the issues.
Here are our top five McCain Missteps.
- McCain suspended his campaign on September 24th to deal with the financial crisis. This created huge expectations that McCain would come forward with a bold plan. McCain defied these expectations by largely remaining silent at the White House crisis summit and staying behind the scenes during the bailout debate, leaving conservative House Republicans to fight the battle over the bill. Principled opposition that adopted the stance that failed firms should not be bailed out, drawing a line between those faced with a solvency crisis and a liquidity crisis, would not only have made economic sense, it would have allowed McCain to top into public outrage at tax-dollars going into the coffers of billionaires.
- Instead of developing a solution for the crisis or at least frankly addressing public fears, McCain attempted to adopt a populist stance against Wall Street greed. This was pure hooey, of course. Greed hadn’t suddenly reared up like a monster from the Atlantic and swallowed Wall Street. The roots of the problem wasn’t the motive—greed has been and shall always be with us—but the means: inflating homeownership, government sponsored securitization, loose money policies, unleashed agency costs, errant accounting regulations, mismanagement, etc.
- When McCain finally did present a plan to address the financial crisis, it seemed as if he had thought it up on the spot during a presidential debate. His economic advisers couldn’t even explain the mechanics. It was the opposite of statesmanship. It was words untethered to either a plan or reality.
- McCain completely dropped the one issue that might have appealed to businesses, investors and aspirational Americans yearning to be wealthy. We’re talking, of course, about taxes. McCain was officially for cutting capital gains and corporate taxes, but at nearly every turn he refused to talk about these positions. Joe the Plumber should have been a representative of the tax burden on America’s small businesses; instead McCain fled into abstractions about “redistribution.”
- Instead of talking about tax cuts, McCain consistently said he would “keep taxes low,” which is as uninspirational (“No Change!”) as it is nonsensical. Were we expected to believe that the Democratic Congress and George Bush had arrived at the perfect tax rate? If not, why not change it? Obama actually got out to his right on income taxes, promising a tax cut for most Americans. What Republican candidate could hope to win by battling a Democratic tax-cut armed with nothing other than a sour face and dour talk?
The leaders of the Republican party should not forget that their candidate was virtually with Obama before McCain bungled the bailout, the economy and taxes. But, being politicians, we suppose they probably will. Especially if they can just as easily blame that woman from Alaska.
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