As the world stock markets begin to self-destruct (not for too long I’m sure), it’s starting to look as though the aura of invincibility which the McCain/Palin ticket had been building since Sarah Palin was unveiled as Republican vice-presidential candidate is starting to fall too:
For two weeks the McCain campaign has wallowed in the media’s obsession with Governor Palin. A huge bounce in the opinion polls followed, with women especially declaring that they were changing their allegiance because they admired her so much.
But that appears to be changing as the focus of the election turns to the economy, especially in northern states. In Iowa, a poll in the Des Moines Register gives Barack Obama a comfortable lead of 12 points. In traditionally Republican southern states, however, the McCain campaign remains strong (he has a 20-point lead in South Carolina).
And it’s hardly surprising – although McCain’s poll numbers on the economy had been mystifyingly good for the same period, it’s also true that his economic guru Phil Gramm was in large measure responsible for creating the conditions which led to such a cataclysmic economic collapse. Economic laureate Joseph Stiglitz notes:
The industry as a whole has not been doing what it should be doing – for instance creating products that help Americans manage critical risks, such as staying in their homes when interest rates rise or house prices fall – and it must now face change in its regulatory structures. Regrettably, many of the worst elements of the US financial system – toxic mortgages and the practices that led to them – were exported to the rest of the world.
It was all done in the name of innovation, and any regulatory initiative was fought away with claims that it would suppress that innovation. They were innovating, all right, but not in ways that made the economy stronger. Some of America’s best and brightest were devoting their talents to getting around standards and regulations designed to ensure the efficiency of the economy and the safety of the banking system. Unfortunately, they were far too successful, and we are all – homeowners, workers, investors, taxpayers – paying the price.
Except it was precisely those standards which Phil Gramm, whose economic philosophy is wholeheartedly embraced by McCain, sought to deregulate or do away with altogether. With McCain’s own grasp of economics tenuous by his own admission (although no doubt he’ll be as ruthlessly coached as Palin was in her TV interview the other day to sidestep that problem for the debates), Obama has already begun his attack:
Barack Obama has expanded his call for stricter control of the US financial sector into an across-the-board attack on the laissez-faire economics championed by Ronald Reagan, pursued by President George Bush for the past eight years, and embraced by the Republican candidate for the White House, John McCain.
The Democratic presidential candidate said he was not blaming Mr McCain in person for “the most serious financial crisis since the Great Depression” , but “the economic philosophy he subscribes to,” based on tax cuts for the wealthy and the habit of “ignoring economic problems until they spiralled into crises”.
During the Bush years, that philosophy insisted that “even commonsense regulations are unneccessary and unwise”, with the result that the administration had sat on its hands as problems turned into crises – the latest being the convulsions on Wall Street.
He’s not alone. Biden is also hammering McCain:
“Senator McCain has confessed, quote, “It’s easy for me to go to Washington and frankly, be somewhat divorced from the day-to-day challenges people have.” And he’s right, if all you do is walk the halls of power, all you hear are the wants of the powerful.
I believe that’s why Senator McCain could say with a straight face, as recently as this morning, and I quote “the fundamentals of our economy are strong.” That, “We’ve made great progress economically” during the Bush years. But friends, I could walk from here to Lansing, and I wouldn’t run into a single person who thought our economy was doing well, unless I ran into John McCain.
John McCain just doesn’t seem to understand what middle class people are going through today. I don’t doubt that he cares. He just doesn’t think that we have any responsibility to help people who are hurting.”
Now that’s a real Vice President, but he was aided by this disaster of a gaffe by McCain, who played disastrously into the Democratic meme of trying to tie McCain to Bush, universally discredited as out-of-touch:
Most intriguingly however the 500,000-strong National Organisation for Women has made an unprecedented endorsement…of Obama. Put off by Palin’s support for creationism, the stories of her abuse of power, homophobia and for standing against women’s reproductive rights, their endorsement is a clear indication that the Palin effect is dying down nationally – possibly of its own accord, but more likely because of the escalating economic crisis. In a nutshell the issues have come forcefully back into play, putting Obama back into his comfort zone. Kim Gandy, the head of NOW said of Sarah Palin:
“She is being portrayed as a supporter of women’s rights… as a feminist when in fact her positions on so many of the issues are really anathema to ours.
“A lot of women think it’s a great thing for a woman to be running for vice-president,” she continued, “but they are completely dismayed when they find out her positions. The idea that she opposes abortion even in cases of rape and incest – those kinds of positions are completely out of step with American women and once they find out about those positions, they get a little less excited.”
Cause for hope? McCain’s commanding lead in the opinion polls has certainly evaporated….