Obama’s Campaign and Its Critics

September 12, 2008

You sure hear people giving Obama a lot of advise lately.  Most everyone seems to be telling him what to do and what he’s doing wrong.  There seems to be almost a sense of panic among some people who support him.  It appears to me though that all that has happened since the two conventions is that things are back to where they were before the conventions, a virtual tie in national polls, maybe a nudge to McCain.

There seem to be two schools of thought: that Obama needs to focus on the issues, to get the focus back on the economy; and that Obama needs to develop a better “connection” with the voters.  The first group focuses on how the Republicans are succeeding in getting the focus off the economy and filling the news with silly things like supposed insults and the like, mostly involving Plain.

The second group says that the so called “character” issue, which seems to be a label for all non-policy based aspects of of a candidate’s appeal or difficulties, is likely to be determinative.  George Lakoff recently wrote an article that discusses this second approach.

The “get back to the issues” group points to Bill Clinton’s ability to get the focus on the economy as the key to his success in defeating H.W. Bush.  Lakoff points out that Reagan won despite most people disagreeing with him on most issues.

In a recent speech Obama tried so hard to address the issues that his speech lacked the emotional appeal that has characterized his addresses over the last year.  This suggests that he is taking his lead from the first group I discussed.

His campaign for the nomination though was based on “character” issues.  This certainly suggests that he would not be wise to abandon that aspect of appeal for an issues approach.

McCain and Palin have thrown their lot in with the approach pursued by Reagan, which seems appropriate since their policies are disfavored by a majority of people and their policies are seemingly identical to those of Bush a wildly unpopular president.  McCain’s soporific speeches even sound like Reagan’s speeches in terms of cadence  but sapped of the theatrical content that gave them weight.

Obama needs to find a voice that raises the “character” aspect of his presentation and at the same time calls our attention to matters of significance.  Accepting Sarah Palin’s challenges, and trying to address them, does not seem to do the trick.

McCain on the Economy Sounds Muddled

March 26, 2008

McCain sounded confused and his responses were meandering when he answered questions in Texas about the invasion of Ecuador. I was quite happy to attribute this to fatigue after a hard day, but his recent speech on the economic crisis makes me wonder.

He urged caution and took the position that a bailout should only be done if there is a threat of systemic collapse. Who on earth does he think he is arguing with? Has there ever been a bailout such as the recent one that was not justified by claiming that the action was taken to preserve the system? This is no position at all, unless he is suggesting that there was an insufficient basis for the action taken with Bear Stearns. The lack of specifics makes this sound like nothing more than someone trying to sound conservative without necessarily knowing what is going on. In its tone of principled conformance with the status quo without much in the way of true explanation, the comment is very similar to the ones we are accustomed to hearing from our current executive.

His comment about caution in providing assistance to the people caught in the foreclosure crisis also struck me as odd. This of course is a residential mortgage crisis. He cautions against federal intervention because speculators should not benefit by such help. That really doesn’t say anything does it? Does he have any idea how many of these speculators would inappropriately benefit by such a program or whether it is possible to cull them from the rest, or whether that would be worthwhile to undertake a culling process? This left me with sort of a vague, amorphous sense of caution without any sense of what he might do other than be slow in dealing with this.

While arguing against quick federal action he did suggest that adding more disclosures to the stack of papers a consumer is required to sign at closing might solve things. The problem with this of course is that the mass of loan papers already overwhelms most people and the people who find themselves in this crisis are not likely to have been assisted by a thicker stack of papers to sign at closing. Is it just me or does this sound really lame? The financial institutions, which knew exactly what they were doing still jumped into this. That suggests to me that dumping more paper on consumers might not be entirely effective.

This struck me as a random suggestion, as just a few months ago he refused to accept changes in the Truth in Lending Act, which he now advocates. This business about enhancing the Truth in Lending Act is inconsistent with his statements about avoidance of federal regulation and to all appearances would be regulation without much effect. He has steadfastly refused to approve measures to restrain predatory lending practices, which is I guess consistent with his speech about avoiding intervention. The problem is that you just cannot decipher a policy out of vague statements of restraint with odd exceptions.
Clinton and Obama have proposed a fund in about the same about used for Bear Stearns to help people threatened with foreclosure. This has appeal to me because it would address the whole problem. That is it would help people facing foreclosure and by so doing it would improve the quality of the mortgage backed securities and bad loans that bedevil financial institutions. Sort of a win-win situation, rather than just letting the people go and bailing out financial institutions, who at least had the expertise and full opportunity to choose not to leap into the quagmire.

I am sure that there are counter arguments to the proposals of the Democrats. I sincerely hope that McCain plans to engage in policy discussions and not just the same old junk. Maybe he does plan to just try to seem very cautious, stay the hand with the war, merely watch the economy as we go deeper and deeper in debt and fissures like the current one appear. He seems to be making some effort to to assure us that it will be business as usual. My uncertainty about reserve without defining what you are looking for and what measures you would adopt if the circumstances warranted applies to Obama as well as McCain. See the discussion of this matter as a campaign issue.