The fact is, folks, that neither of the two contenders for the presidency of the United States has any experience in dealing with the worsening financial crisis. Actually John McCain has considerably more than Barack Obama but that isn’t saying much.
If there isn’t a miraculous economic rebound in the next four weeks, it looks as though any effort by McCain to solve the dilemma will have to take place in the Senate. Obama will win the thankless job of trying to dig the nation out of its woes. At least that’s the impression left by record numbers of Democratic registrants and polls that reveal a growing margin of support for the Illinois senator who unsurprisingly is given a better chance of dealing with Wall Street problems than his more experienced opponent.
That is the fallout that McCain must endure for some seeming confusion as the crisis suddenly began accelerating and the fact that his Republican party is in control of the White House. It’s just the old "if it happens on your watch" syndrome, often called the "Herbert Hoover effect." In reality neither man has much chance of putting things right. Presidents just don’t have that much control over the economy outside the area of personal persuasion — the so-called "bully pulpit” — and setting a tone of fiscal restraint, which the current president has failed to do.
Since everyone wants to compare what is happening now to the stock market crash of 1929, it seems fair to examine what took place following that horrible event that resulted in the worst and longest economic downturn in the nation’s history. By 1932 things had gone from bad to worse and Republican Hoover was being unfairly reviled and blamed for the lasting nightmare. Franklin Roosevelt was elected in a landslide and in the first hundred days of his administration began administering the New Deal medicine touted to restore economic viability to a sick nation.
In truth, Roosevelt’s remedies, some of which were declared unconstitutional, were more appearance than substance. America continued to founder economically almost seven more years until the advent of the war in Europe injected new vitality. Between his first election and 1939-40 when the need for war materials revived industry, it was the president’s calming voice that kept the nation’s masses of unemployed and underfed hopeful. Without it there could have been revolution.
Obama is woefully short of the kind of executive experience and, for that matter, political background that would give one much optimism for his dealing with this increasingly scary situation. Most of his short three years in the Senate has been spent in running for the office he now looks as though he will win. Before that, his tenure in the Illinois legislature was hardly the kind of experience he needs for this job. He has promised programs that are too expensive, like more health care, and his philosophy is that of an old time spending liberal. Yet he is a far more charismatic figure in the Roosevelt tradition than McCain, a quality that can’t be overemphasized in this situation.
McCain has been in the Senate a long time and has been involved in the appropriations and budget processes that should give him a leg up on understanding how to deal with fiscal problems. Still he has not shown any great interest in those issues, expending more of his energy on defense and election reform. He has said he will get a grip on spending but also has proposed expensive programs.
Nothing matters, however, except the apparent growing perception by voters that the only way out of this economic morass is to change those at the nation’s helm and hope that doing so will bring a new approach and better solutions. Americans always vote their pocketbooks and McCain’s may be as empty as the rest of us.
(E-mail Dan K. Thomasson, former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service, at thomassondan(at)aol.com.)