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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Weathervane McCain

WeathervaneIt's a headline that John McCain can't be awfully happy with. MarketWatch tells us "John McCain's Health Care Plan Based on Same Policies That Are Causing Wall Street Meltdown." Ouch. At issue is one sentence, written by McCain, in the obscure actuarial trade magazine Contingencies Magazine:

Opening up the health insurance market to more vigorous nationwide competition, as we have done over the last decade in banking, would provide more choices of innovative products less burdened by the worst excesses of state-based regulation.

Obviously, this was written before the market meltdown. In banking, those "innovative products" were subprime mortgages, made possible by deregulation of the market. McCain is now running against the deregulators, despite the unfortunate fact that only moments before he was one of them. In terms of the exact wrong thing to say, that sentence is up there with McCain's assertion that "the fundamentals of our economy are strong."

With taxpayers about to be stuck with a $700 billion bailout, the sort of Republican John McCain used to be last week isn't extremely popular this week. But McCain switches positions as easily as changing pants; Weathervane McCain is now a regulator. So McCain, palavering and obfuscating, reinvents himself for the bazillionth time in his campaign. But old habits die hard and McCain still finds it necessary to defend his now discredited ideology from time to time. Asked on CBS Today if he regretted working to deregulate the markets in 1999, McCain hit a sour note. "No," he said. "I think the deregulation was probably helpful to the growth of our economy." He said it with a straight face. No, really. There's video.

Of course, McCain isn't doing himself any favors in trying to be all things to all people. While he tells one group of people what they want to hear, he's contradicting what he's told another group. As this campaign goes on, a weird thing happens -- we know less about McCain every day. With each reversal and each contradiction, what McCain really stands for becomes less and less clear. Half of what he says must be lies, but which half? It really is unclear. John McCain's core principles and guiding philosophy seems to be whatever it is you believe. A political Zelig, John McCain's beliefs match those of whoever he happens to be talking to. At this point, there doesn't seem to be a real McCain -- just a collections of wildly different personas and beliefs designed to appeal to different groups.

It shouldn't surprise anyone that this isn't working very well. A new CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll shows Obama in the lead -- 51% to 47%. You don't have to look far to get to a reason for this:

By a 2-to-1 ratio, Americans blame Republicans over Democrats for the financial crisis that has swept across the country the past few weeks, a new national poll suggests.

That may be contributing to better poll numbers for Sen. Barack Obama against Sen. John McCain in the race for the White House.

In a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey out Monday afternoon, 47 percent of registered voters questioned said Republicans are more responsible for the problems currently facing financial institutions and the stock market; only 24 percent said Democrats are more responsible.

Part of the reason for these numbers, as any right wing pundit will tell you, is that the party holding the White House tends to get blamed. But the part they don't tell you is that the larger portion comes from the fact that it's true. The Republican party has been the party of deregulation. In Green Bay yesterday, Barack Obama made that very point:

"The era of greed and irresponsibility on Wall Street and in Washington has led us to a perilous moment," the Illinois Democrat told a crowd of several thousand at the Resch Center.

"They said they wanted to let the market run free, but instead they let it run wild," said Obama, presumably referring to opponents of regulation in the other party.

And Bush's bailout plan comes with no oversight -- i.e., no regulation. "We cannot give a blank check to Washington with no oversight and accountability, when no oversight and accountability is what got us into this mess in the first place," Obama said. John McCain has made similar statements and has expressed similar concerns, but his credibility here is more than a little shaky.

And, of course, McCain hopes to be able to run against Bush -- despite his clear connection to the current president. Bush scores an anemic 19% approval in separate polling following the meltdown, with even fewer -- 17% -- approving of his handling of the economy. In related news, only about 3% of Americans suffer from severe mental illness, so we can safely assume that up to 14% of Americans are dumber than a sack of hammers.

In further news, 0% in the same poll believe the economy is getting better. Apparently, even the stupid and insane are incapable of making that mistake.

McCain can't be any happier about any of this than he is about the headline I opened the post with. CNN tells us that Obama "has a 10-point lead over McCain when it comes to who respondents think would better handle the economy overall." The reason is simple -- one candidate's solution is to put his finger in the air, take a measure of prevailing winds, and "lead" in the direction the that puts that wind at his back.

Turns out that's not a good idea.