warriors and statesmen…

Posted on Monday 29 September 2008

The 3 A.M. Call
By Paul Krugman

It’s 3 a.m., a few months into 2009, and the phone in the White House rings. Several big hedge funds are about to fail, says the voice on the line, and there’s likely to be chaos when the market opens. Whom do you trust to take that call?…

Remember, his [McCain’s] chief mentor on economics is Phil Gramm, the arch-deregulator, who took special care in his Senate days to prevent oversight of financial derivatives — the very instruments that sank Lehman and A.I.G., and brought the credit markets to the edge of collapse. Mr. Gramm hasn’t had an official role in the McCain campaign since he pronounced America a “nation of whiners,” but he’s still considered a likely choice as Treasury secretary

John McCain and Phil Gramm 

The real revelation of the last few weeks, however, has been just how erratic Mr. McCain’s views on economics are. At any given moment, he seems to have very strong opinions — but a few days later, he goes off in a completely different direction. Thus on Sept. 15 he declared — for at least the 18th time this year — that “the fundamentals of our economy are strong.” This was the day after Lehman failed and Merrill Lynch was taken over, and the financial crisis entered a new, even more dangerous stage. But three days later he declared that America’s financial markets have become a “casino,” and said that he’d fire the head of the Securities and Exchange Commission — which, by the way, isn’t in the president’s power.

And then he found a new set of villains — Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored lenders. And he moralistically accused other politicians, including Mr. Obama, of being under Fannie’s and Freddie’s financial influence; it turns out that a firm owned by his own campaign manager was being paid by Freddie until just last month. Then Mr. Paulson released his plan, and Mr. McCain weighed vehemently into the debate. But he admitted, several days after the Paulson plan was released, that he hadn’t actually read the plan, which was only three pages long…

The modern economy, it turns out, is a dangerous place — and it’s not the kind of danger you can deal with by talking tough and denouncing evildoers. Does Mr. McCain have the judgment and temperament to deal with that part of the job he seeks?
"… and said that he’d fire the head of the Securities and Exchange Commission — which, by the way, isn’t in the president’s power" is pretty typical John McCain. This is one of the qualities he shares with Sarah Palin – firing people. What Krugman is referring to [McCain’s temper and impulsiveness] is a John McCain signature quality that troubles me.

But that’s not all. After the debate, Obama said, "He talked a lot about me. But he didn’t say anything about you." He was talking about McCain’s contemptuopus attacks during the debate, and his failure to mention the American people and what he might do for us. But, I was taken with something different. I thought John McCain spent most of his time talking about himself. What he’d done. Where he’d been. Who he knew. How he would be [kick-ass tough]. It was striking. Whether he’s got early dementia or not is open to speculation, but his narcissism is a solid diagnosis. Like Bush before him, it’s all about "me." There’s a capital "I" in every sentence.

Of Obama, Krugman says:
About Mr. Obama: it’s a shame that he didn’t show more leadership in the debate over the bailout bill, choosing instead to leave the issue in the hands of Congressional Democrats, especially Chris Dodd and Barney Frank. But both Mr. Obama and the Congressional Democrats are surrounded by very knowledgeable, clear-headed advisers, with experienced crisis managers like Paul Volcker and Robert Rubin always close at hand.
Others call Obama "cautious," "even-tempered," "an idealist," "unflappable." How refreshing! He doesn’t have to be in the center of every show. The quality is called "humility," and Obama seems to have a nice and genuine version of it.  The Dictionary says:
hu·mil·i·ty [hyoo-mil-i-tee or, often yoo-]
    the quality or condition of being humble; a modest opinion or estimate of one’s own importance, rank, etc.
… but a more precise psychological definition would say, "an accurate opinion or estimate of one’s own abilities." Obama can toot his horn, but it’s the horn he’s got. His most refreshing quality, to me, is a genuine humility that accounts for what people call his "Presidential" demeanor. He’s actually a pretty cool guy, and seems to know it. But he’s not trying to be much more than he is. He reminds me of something I was taught in medical school. You can never know all of medicine, not even a fraction. So what’s important is that you know when you don’t know, and either find somebody who does know or hit the books. And when he says in the debate, "John McCain is absolutely right," many feel he’s being weak. I think it’s a natural recognition that others know plenty, and need to be acknowledged.

When I was in the Air Force during the Viet Nam days, I was stationed at a Tactical Air Command [fighter] base in Europe where the pilots came between tours in Southeast Asia. They were the cockiest, self-aggrandizing, most competative group of people I ever met in my life – the worst of the Top Gun types. I shouldn’t generalize though. Were their exceptions? Okay, I met one sensible fighter pilot. We called them "jet jockeys" and made Freudian jokes about their phallic personalities. They mostly had blonde trophy wives and European Sports Cars. They liked to gamble. John McCain is a paradigm for what they were like. Statesmen and Warriors are close to mutually exclusive categories – with notable exceptions. But McCain fits that formula to a tee. Recall what Tom Cruise was called in Top Gun – "Maverick."

    September 29, 2008 | 7:51 AM

    You’ve got McCain’s character right, and it’s not what we need in a president.

    One thing I would add to Obama’s way in the financial crisis. He was involved, we are told, in daily phone calls to those really working on the problem. He kept up with the process, and he made suggestions, trying to make sure they did something for “Main St.”

    But he did it in private. McCain was full of bluster, grabbing headlines, and at best, doing nothing; at worst, adding to the problems.

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