The Aaron Harber Show

The Biggest Missed Opportunity
The Meltdown of Financial Markets

September 22, 2008
By Aaron Harber

With the meltdown of financial markets, John McCain and Barack Obama essentially walked in lockstep in support of what essentially will be a $1 trillion taxpayer bailout of wealthy investors on Wall Street. In the name of "financial stability," both presidential campaigns have endorsed the concept of the Federal Government bailing out Wallstreet.

Both presidential campaigns see the race as so close it could be decided by one or two states on Election Night --- as it was in 2000 and 2004. As a result, instead of "going for broke" and trying to hit a home run to win the game, their strategists are insisting on extreme caution. They would rather go for a base hit and win by a razor-thin one-run margin than gamble and lose the game.

Obama should have realized how poor a strategy this is. Overconfidence led him into a "Prevent-D" (used by a team well ahead in a game such as football but, if deployed too soon, can result in a loss) over the summer when he had a substantial lead over McCain. McCain challenged Obama to a series of debates and Obama declined --- thinking he had the election sewn up. Much to his surprise and chagrin, McCain worked his way back into the race and now is statistically tied with Obama in most polls --- using the same theme of "Change" as Obama and adding his unique "maverick" element to the debate.

Ironically, the financial meltdown actually presented the candidates with an extraordinary opportunity to distinguish themselves --- to illustrate a difference between them which went beyond drawing a line and, instead, could have created a veritable electoral chasm between the two. Had one of the candidates exploited this opportunity, he might have won the election not by 1 percentage point but by 5 or even 10. But both candidates have passed on that opportunity.

What was that missed opportunity? It was a chance to truly be bold. It was an opportunity to offer policy to put substance for the first time behind their words about "change." It was to step forward and say,

"My campaign has been about change. It has been about a commitment to the American people to stop the ‘business-as-usual' workings of Washington. It has been about assisting those Americans who truly need a helping hand. For these reasons, I am opposing the $1 trillion bailout of Wall Street's wealthiest. To use taxpayer dollars for this purpose is inappropriate. It is bad public policy. This action is a misuse of our limited resources --- which need to be dedicated to health care, education, transportation, and national security. To add $1 trillion to our deficits today means the value of the dollar will fall further and Americans' standard of living will deteriorate even more. To misspend $1 trillion means we will not be able to take care of our most pressing needs. And to give Washington lobbyists and Wall Street millionaires $1 trillion of our money is exactly what I ran for President to stop from happening. I say ‘Let the Free Market work.' Yes, there will be winners and losers but that will be determined by the decisions those investors made. If these people made bad decisions, we should not now reward them. I am running to truly change Washington and this is our opportunity to begin that change. Yes, the next several months and even years will be difficult for all of us but throwing our money at the problem --- money we may never see again and which we will spend decades paying back in new taxes with potentially no return --- is not the answer."

Surprisingly, either candidate could have done this and he would have been perceived as believable, sincere, and consistent. McCain has been attacking the Washington establishment as the foundation of his "maverick" campaign. Obama began his campaign with the theme of "Real Change." Would anything be more emblematic of serious change than the rejection of a policy which uses taxpayer dollars to rescue the wealthy whose lobbyists dominate Washington?

It would have been a act of populism by a major party candidate which heretofore has been unseen and unheard in contemporary politics. It could have skyrocketed the professing candidate to a position of dominance in the campaign because not only would he truly become the patron saint of the average American --- he would simultaneously be able to castigate his opponent as a tool of the ruling class in America. That opponent would be characterized as the disingenuous candidate who, if elected, would continue politics-as-usual despite the words he spoke. What better way to win the election in November?

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