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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

It's the work of the political handlers, not of intelligent life

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

John McCain's political advisers must have been astonished by the number of journalists asleep at the switch when the Republican presidential candidate dropped his bombshell during last week's presidential debate with Democrat Barack Obama.

Under McCain's American Homeownership Resurgence Plan, the government would buy mortgages directly from homeowners who were falling behind in their payments and replace them with, as his Web site says, "manageable, fixed-rate mortgages that will keep families in their homes." It would only cost another $300 billion or so, his handlers later explained. Where do I sign up?

In post-debate media confabulations, few commentators appeared to pick up on how a Republican was proposing the kind of huge, expensive and intrusive government program that would make GOP eyeballs spin if a Democrat had come up with the same buy-me-some-votes idea. In my channel surfing, only a Fortune magazine editor on one of the debate postmortems was aghast, noting that the Republican "small government" tradition had just capsized and sunk.

Abandoning long-held beliefs is what happens in an economic panic. I can imagine it now, how McCain's political advisers were desperate to come up with something, anything, that would make their candidate look like he had the definitive economic plan, something more than dishing out up to $700 billion to rescue banks, Wall Street and derivatives magicians.

The theory was probably something like: "Let's look like we're bypassing all those crooks by giving the money directly to homeowners. What could be more Main Street than that?"

What better way to trump Obama's lead with airheads who figure that "change" is the all-purpose elixir for every ill. It would "position" McCain as the advocate for the regular guy and force Obama into the unfamiliar position of being for the "fat cats" on Wall Street.

Nice, but the problem was that the media barely noticed. Maybe they would have paid more attention if Obama had come up with the plan. Obama last week offered a plan (I suppose in response to McCain's), as The Wall Street Journal put it, "to temporarily provide low-interest loans to struggling businesses by using existing structures already in place through the Small Business Administration," whatever that means. Obama also supports allowing elders to delay withdrawals from their 401(k) retirement plans beyond age 701/2. Democrats also are talking about passing a new economic stimulus package in the lame duck Congress after the election because, I guess, the last package worked so well.

Even McCain's handlers admit the $300 billion for his rescue plan is a lot of money so maybe it could be taken out of the $700 billion bailout already passed. Or maybe the earlier bailout of Bear Stearns. Or the Hope for Homeowners Act. Bet you already forgot about that one, even though it was enacted only eight weeks ago. (It gives distressed homeowners a chance to cancel their mortgage and replace it with a 30-year, fixed-rate loan up to 90 percent of the current fair market value, all insured by the Federal Housing Administration for up to $300 billion over the next three years. And doesn't that sound familiar?)

The number of these schemes is getting downright creepy. There are so many that guessing that some of them will be unnecessary, conflicting or just downright damaging to the economy is irresistible.

The debates and campaigns have reduced themselves to the mere memorization of talking points concocted by handlers, which is why the last debate was such a yawn.

Listen handlers, we've got your talking points memorized. If we want any more thoughts out of you, we'll squeeze your heads and see what comes out your ears. It's probably too late to fire all the handlers and let the candidates be whoever they are. Although, it might be just the kind of stimulus the public needs to pull us out of our despondency.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ask any marketing firm, "What is the most powerful word in marketing?" The answer has been and will always be "new." When a political strategist (marketing consultant)gets his hands on this word it becomes "change." If Obama does win the election he will have perpetrated the ultimate act of hocus pocus on the American people. He will have convinced that his government would cost less for 95% of us and do more for all of us. That bigger goverment is better goverment. That more debt is better than less debt. That a kinder gentler foreign policy is better than trust but verify. That our founding fathers had it all wrong, that life, liberty and the persuit of happiness were good ideas that could be legislated. That government was the answer, not the problem. That Bill Ayers was sorry, not just sorry he got caught. That Tony Resco is just a good business man. That Franklin Reines really didn't have anything to do with Freddie or Fannies failures. That the hate spewed forth from Reveren Wright's mouth was justifiable. That if we will just hold still, this will only hurt for a little while. I am sorry Mr. Obama. I ain't buying the new thing. You are gonna have to sell it to somebody else.