Sunday, October 5, 2008

Rhetorical Question

Can someone explain to me why Saturday Night Live will go after the Democrats for their part in causing the financial crisis, but John McCain won’t?



Bryan said...

Simple - Senator McCain doesn't want to pick a fight on those grounds. Conventional wisdom says that the American public tends to favor Democrats on the economy, and that voters tend to punish the party of the current President during an economic crisis. So that's reason enough for McCain to favor other terrain for an electoral fight.

But beyond the generic reasons, Sen. McCain has specific reasons to avoid a fight over the economy if at possible. Both McCain and his surrogates have made a number of statements that could be used against him in really vicious attack ads. For example:

1)During the primary, McCain stated that he didn't know that much about the economy.

2)At the Saddleback forum, McCain joked that anyone making under $5 million a year is middle class

3)McCain surrogates have repeatedly stated that Obama is going to raise "everyone's" taxes.

4)McCain said he didn't how many houses he had

5)Just before the current market meltdown, McCain stated that the economy's fundamentals were strong.

Whether you agree with (or find forgiveable) any of these statements is irrelevant - the fact is that you can shape them into some really ugly attack ads portraying McCain as an out-of-touch, "Let Them Eat Cake" plutocrat. And with all of the negative financial news right now, that's hardly an attack he'd want to face.

Brian said...


Have to say I disagree. Not with the notion that economic issues aren't especially good territory for him to fight on, but rather with the idea that McCain has any real choice in the matter. With the current crisis on center stage --and likely to remain there through the election-- to have much of a chance McCain simply must improve his messages on economic issues. Moreover, Democrats have recognized that the economy is potentially good political ground for them and continue their furious attacks on McCain, including along each of the five points you specifically mentioned. McCain can either respond to those attacks and counter with his own, or sit and watch as voters start to believe those attacks are true.

Sometimes you don't get to choose the ground you fight on. When that happens, you just have to make the best of it. McCain has some potentially potent attacks to make of his own (Fannie/Freddie, raising taxes during a recession, etc.). In my view, if he remains hesitant to make them he'll basically guarantee his defeat.

Bryan said...

Interesting . . . I think our disagreeement on this might be more semantics than anything else. So let's see if I can't clarify my position, and see where our actual points of agreement/disagreement are.

First, I agree that Senator McCain can't simply ignore the economy as an issue (certainly not when all of the commentators are speculating on whether this is a repeat of 1929). And I (think we) agree that Senator McCain needs to articulate his economic polices, pointing out how they differ from Sen. Obama's, and how they can benefit the economy.

However, I would argue that a flame war over the economy would be tantamount to suicide for the McCain campaign. While Sen. Obama certainly isn't a saint, or an angel, there's currently a decided asymmetry between the fodder (for negative economic attack ads) that the campaigns have provided.

For example, except for the arugula comment, the only thing the McCain campaign has to work with is guilt-by-association (while the Obama campaign has a number of damaging quotes by McCain & his official surrogates to use). And even when it comes to guilt-by-association, the Obama campaign has so much more colorful material to work with than the McCain campaign (remember the whole "nation of whiners" comment?)

So, in summary, I think that the McCain campaign needs to run a positive (preferably content-heavy) message on the economy (unless they're prepared to concede to the Obama campaign). Because if the economic debate degenerates into mudsling, the Obama campaign is going to crucify them. Does that match your opinions on the matter?

Brian said...

I think we're in closer agreement than I perhaps thought. I concur that McCain shouldn't get into a "who made the most statements that sound idiotic when taken out of context" battle with Obama, not so much because I think that there's a gross disparity between the number of such comments each has made (there might be, I just haven't thought much about the question) but because I don't think such a fight would hold much political potential for either man. Trailing three weeks before election day, McCain has no time to waste on such distractions.

I think we may disagree, however, on how aggressively McCain should go about engaging Obama on substantive policy differences. McCain certainly needs to start putting out a positive, coherent economic message (late in the day though it is) but I also think that he absolutely must attack Obama harder and more consistently on his economic proposals. Those attacks should be substantive; indeed, I think they must be substantive to be effective. But McCain has to do the "contrast" thing, and do it well, if we are to have much suspense on election day.

At bottom, I'm still sticking to my thesis that McCain needs to make the election a referendum on Barack Obama (rather than himself or George W. Bush) in order to win. Given recent events and the lateness of the race that's an increasingly tall order, but I still think it's his best and only shot.

Do you disagree?