(Week 4 - Monday Aug. 18)
On Saturday evening the nation was presented with its first one-to-one encounter between the presumptive Presidential nominees for the two major parties, John McCain and Barack Obama. It was a unique "faceoff" in that the two candidates never actually sat across from each other, but came to the stage in alternate one-hour sessions (decided by the luck of the draw), each answering an identical set of questions from the same interviewer, Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California.
The form of the event lent itself to a direct comparison of the two men, but without the posturing and sparring that dominates the dynamics of more conventional political debates. In their respective ways each acquitted himself well. Each delivered what I perceived to be intelligent and heartfelt responses, and the reception by the audience appeared to be genuinely warm for both. The event was, it might be said, the American political pageant at its challenging, but congenial, best.
Within the context of their respective worldviews, I found the words of both to be credible in all categories except for one; i.e. almost anything having to do with money and the economy. My remarks here are in no way motivated by a desire to cast a shadow on the abilities and good faith of these two men. On the contrary, on issues related to the economy, as on others, they seemed to be bright and sincere. What then, the reader might fairly ask, is this writer talking about?
It is my experience that when it comes to money and economics, virtually the whole of the American political discourse lives within a strange through-the-looking-glass realm where nothing is what it is purported to be (readers may by now have gotten a feeling for what I mean in the columns that have preceded this one).
This may seem to be a bold statement, but, I suggest, it is easy to document from the newspaper headlines of the present, and of the last half-century or more. Candidates for Federal office (Congressman, Senator, President) claim, election cycle after election cycle, that if the nation would only adopt their particular nuance of taxing and spending priorities, we would at last turn the corner on "the deficit," and in turn the other intractable economic dilemmas of our times. Some combination of those presented get elected, but when the next cycle rolls around, the problems are still there, only worse. We hear, in repackaged form, the same purported remedies and earnestly delivered promises all over again. I would suggest that we as a nation cannot afford to go much further without coming to a realization of what is wrong.
Candidates for office, almost without exception, treat the economic question as if it were fiscal (i.e. budgetary) in nature; i.e. as if its problems could be remedied by adopting some particular combination of taxing and spending policies; be they liberal, conservative or any variation thereof. I would suggest that this is an illusion. The "deficit" is not a fiscal problem. It is a monetary problem; i.e. related to the way we as a society create, issue and control our money. Prudent budgetary practice is well, but if by the very mode by which our society gets its money it always comes up short in the ability to pay its bills, then no conceivable combination of taxing and spending parameters is going to remedy the shortfall.
Neither McCain or Obama give any indication whatsoever that they understand the true nature of the problem, which is not surprising since almost no other candidate on the American scene in the last half-century has done so either (there was a time when many, and the mass of the electorate, clearly did). The extent to which the economy was addressed in the Saddleback event was disappointingly brief (Obama hardly touched upon it), but the candidates' positions are easily ascertainable from other sources, and the candidates' websites themselves.
So, what specifically is it that the McCain and Obama need to become aware of to be effective with respect to their economic intentions? We will address that in the next column.
The complete set of columns from this series is posted at the following websites.