Thursday, September 25, 2008

McCain's Stunt, John Paul's Principles & Obama's Opportunity

Who knew that John McCain was his own stuntman? What else to call his decision to “suspend” his campaign and fly back to Washington to help solve the economic crisis. Was McCain earnest about the importance of being back in the Senate or was he merely confused about the word order of the Oscar Wilde play?

McCain has admitted to no special expertise in complex economic matters, despite chairing the Commerce Committee of the Senate for many years. Nor do complex legislative negotiations necessarily benefit from having “mavericks” involved. Nor did any of the lead congressional or administration negotiators – not Treasury Secretary Paulson nor Congressman Barney Frank nor Senator Dodd – call for McCain’s help. The negotiations, by all reports, were proceeding well when John McCain decided he was needed. Rep. Frank, the funniest as well as one of the smartest members of Congress, was having none of it: “We’re trying to rescue the economy, not the McCain campaign.”

If McCain’s polls numbers had been on the upswing, his move might have been seen as disinterested. Instead, it looks like a ploy, a gimmick, a stunt. You have to be careful with such stunts. Yesterday afternoon, it looked like the McCain camp had beaten Obama to a bipartisan punch, that he had outwitted his opponent, and changed what had been a bad storyline. But, precisely because his move was seen as political in nature, it is doubtful that he will gain much from his intervention except the wrath of some in the GOP base who have rebelled against the President’s proposals. Complex economic realities will not be solved by the heroic intervention of anyone, least of all when there is not much heroism in the act. McCain did not look presidential yesterday. He looked frantic to change his poll numbers. Stunts will not change anything.

Principles, on the other hand, are especially important in a time of crisis. Part of the economic crisis is complicated and financial. Part of it is moral. In 1981, Pope John Paul II issued his first (and favorite) encyclical on social justice, Laborem Exercens. (Link is at left with other historic Church documents) “[T]he error of early capitalism can be repeated wherever man is in a way treated on the same level as the whole complex of the material means of production, as an instrument and not in accordance with the true dignity of his work-that is to say, where he is not treated as subject and maker, and for this very reason as the true purpose of the whole process of production.”(Chapter 7) The Pope’s highly philosophic words are not the stuff of a 30-second campaign spot, but Barack Obama would do well to consult, and repeat, the distinction that Pope John Paul II made in homier words: the human person is not a means, or a thing, or a worker-bee, or a cog in someone else’s economic wheel.

Part of the horror of the current crisis is that some Wall Street companies clearly did not give a hoot about the average investor or the average homeowner. The average person who invested with Lehman Brothers could not be expected to know how to value these “financial instruments” that bundled bad mortgages and sold them at inflated costs to unsuspecting buyers. Indeed, one of the most difficult problems still on the negotiators’ table is the question of how to assess the value of these mortgage-backed securities. But, the captains of high finance did not care. They did not care if the homeowner was offered a loan they could not afford. They did not care if the bundling of these mortgages on the belief that housing prices would go up forever bore a frightening resemblance to a ponzi scheme. They saw the chance for a quick profit, and they took it. The average investor was a means to their end.

Obama does not need to embrace Catholic social teaching about the economy, but he needs to speak to the moral aspect of the economic crisis. The crisis is rooted in the fact that Wall Street forgot that the money at issue was not just a dollar figure on a balance sheet but the life savings of a human person, a grandmother who had earned her retirement or a married couple trying to put money away for their child’s college education.

In the 1930s, Msgr. John A. Ryan denounced the “economic dictatorship” that controlled Wall Street. His attacks were echoed by Franklin Delano Roosevelt who spoke forcefully against “economic tyranny” and argued that “the collapse of 1929 showed up the despotism for what it was. The election of 1932 was the people’s mandate to end it.” In doing his debate prep, Obama would do well to consult the words of FDR who so effectively channeled both progressive and Catholic beliefs about social justice. FDR discovered his "rendezvous with destiny" by speaking in moral terms about economic difficulties and Obama's destiny lay along the same path.

Michael Sean Winters


J. Gonz said...

Many conservatives have taken McCain’s interest in the negotiations and interpreted that as him being committed to his job. That no matter what, nothing will get in the way of him doing his job. However Obama said it best, and I am paraphrasing, when he stated that the election comes first. Considering that McCain really can not really bring anything to this situation of immense help, he should instead focus on what America is truly asking for, which is not political heroics, as you stated. Lately, McCain’s campaign seems to be filled with poll raising gimmicks, such as this, and the most obvious, which is Palin. We have yet to learn anything new about Palin since her nomination. Everything we have gathered about her has been from tabloids, and words unsubstantiated by action. McCain has seemed to forgotten what the point of running for president is, which is taking the issues that are affecting us and take them in strides, not focus on them when they help in poll numbers. Not only will Obama have to worry about the crisis at Wall Street, but will also have to focus on a new budget, and the challenge of ensuring something like this does not happen again. The bail out, can only do temporary good. What America needs is a long term plan that can create a stable economic society. This instability affects everyone, and is of great importance. At this juncture both candidates need to put petty and pointless actions aside, and go to the meat of American issues.

Anonymous said...

I agree that the only logical explanation to McCain’s decision to suspend his campaign is to work on the economic crisis but why is it necessary? Why couldn’t he just try to help the situation by giving his view during campaign speeches? I think that his voice might be better heard on the campaign trail all around the country, instead of just being in the same building in the same city where most of our political leaders are. I also agree that this all just a gimmick to get some of the attention back on him. Do I agree that this will work? No. I feel that most Americans will see right through this, that they will make note of this, and remember this come November. For those who do not realize this, the media will and then maybe those people will mark this up against McCain. However, for the time being, we should wait to see if he does more with the decision and maybe help with solving this crisis.

Ryan Masserano

Vincent Pellizzi said...

I disagree with the author’s view of McCain’s motives. McCain has nothing to gain from suspending his campaign to help with the economy. This decision was obvious to garner a lot of criticism, especially with the debate coming up. Whether or not McCain is trying to supposedly ‘chicken out’ of the debate, it still doesn’t seem like a smart move. He is doing this because he cares for the welfare of the nation; as quoted from the Republican National Convention, “John McCain would rather lose an election than see his country lose a war”. While this is of course not completely true, it is a decent explanation of McCain’s actions; there is really almost nothing to be had out of this (for his campaign), and it already faces strong criticism, so why else would he suspend his campaign? Time will tell if this puzzling decision will have any effect on the election. Currently, I do not think it will have any effect, because, in Americans’ minds, the immediate future of the economy should be take importance over the election right now. John McCain may be stalling, but he must have a deeper purpose for doing so, and only he knows what that is.

R Charles said...

I believe that McCain’s antics to “suspend” his campaign and run off to Washington to resolve the financial mess is clearly an attempt to buy himself time and also to ensnare Obama. Obama cleverly rebuked his rival saying the next president needs to “deal with more than one thing at once.” McCain has been an ardent supporter of Wall Street and has advocated the repeal of all regulations. He clearly perceives the overwhelmingly negative effect of the financial bailout on his bid for the presidency.

Pope John Paul II, has cautioned that the treatment of people as mere instruments of production is immoral, unspiritual and would lead to just the predicament Wall Street is in. The financers however were motivated only by greed. Obama can exploit the weaknesses in McCain (and Wall Street ) by pointing out the moral weaknesses on both McCain and Wall Street's part, and laying the blame for the current crisis at their feet.

“With polls showing his campaign is at its weakest, Senator McCain's decision may have less to do with the drop in the Dow Jones average and more to do with a decline in the Gallup poll,” said Obama ally Senator Dick Durbin.

Regis High School

Anonymous said...

John McCain is obviously either stalling or scared of Obama, which is why he is monotonously repeating to address the ecnomic crisis. It does not make nuch sense to say that that is his job right now if he is not president. If McCain should start focusing on the debate if he wants to have an oppurtunity fixing this mess. Another reason behind this "stunt" could be that he is not prepared for the debate. This very much relates to Sarah Palin. McCain seems to be relying on the "gimmick" that is Palin just because she is a woman. He obvioulsy took advantage the situation once he saw that Hilary was neither nominated nor chosen to be vice president. He does this just to solely get the votes of would be Hilary leaders on his side. Another thing that John McCain i doing is to continue preaching change in Washington. The only possible way he keeps justifying this is by saying that he has a woman vice president. Ever she was elected to be VP, he has kept on with that ideal, which was Obama from the very start. How can we have change with McCain if almost everything will be the same, except the fact that the VP could be an unqualified and unprepared VP that will hae no factor in Washington if McCain gets elected.

Gabriel De Pena

G said...

McCain is obviously using the econimc crisis not to only appear as a political hero, but to also stall the debate. If he was well-prepared or confident in himself, he would not be wanting to address the economic issue, which is something the president should be doing. McCain has to worry about Palin and himself first before thinking about something else. One thing that is bothersome is that Obama has been preaching change for a while, and all of a sudden because McCain chose a woman VP they're going to reform Washington? It is so obvious that he is using Palin just for show, to say that he chose a woman VP so can get people excited. This just goes to show how desparate the Republicans are to be entrusting essentailly the election to the "gimmick" of a woman VP, which is neither knowlegdeable nor ready enough to be a VP. All of these moves are moves only Republicans would do because all they care is about winning the election instead of America issues, which is why McCain does not want to debate.

Gabriel De Pena