As Wall Street Tumbles, Herbert Hoover — er, John McCain — Claims That “The Fundamentals Of The Economy Are Still Strong.”

September 16, 2008, 11:45 am

Well, thank you Mary Sunshine.

Seriously folks, the economy hasn’t been sound for a long time, making it even more bizarre that John McCain made this claim yesterday, shortly after Lehman Brothers went down the tube. Even if — as at least one source correctly asserts — this phrase was part of a longer speech that acknowledges the current situation as worrisome, how can McCain float this fantasy when economists of all political persuasions are asserting that the economy has not hit bottom yet? That the worst may be yet to come? (Even the Radical, who does not pray often, is praying for you, AIG. And for you, WaMu.) Click here for video posted by CBS News that shows Obama finally getting aggressive; click here for video posted by FP Passport, a web log published by the journal Foreign Policy, that shows a longer clip from the McCain speech than I have quoted above.

The Radical keeps imagining that she and other historians of the Great Depression will begin to have their phones ring off the hook, so eager will news organizations be to hear their wisdom about the current crisis and the comparisons between John McCain and Mr. Hoover. But I suspect it is not to be. The Lehrer News Hour will keep going back to those tried and true Presidential historians, Michael Beschloss and Richard Norton Smith. Once more, stardom will elude me (“Mr. DeMille, I am ready for my close-up!”)

Among those whose faith in the stewardship of the Republican party seems to have been shattered for the time being is conservative columnist David Brooks, whose piece in today’s New York Times, “Why Experience Matters” seems to be a sincere attempt to bring the Republican base down to earth about what the “vote for the guy you want to have a beer with” attitude has bought for both the masses, as well as the classes. “The issue starts with an evaluation of Palin, but does not end there,” Brooks writes. “This argument also is over what qualities the country needs in a leader and what are the ultimate sources of wisdom.” Although Brooks acknowledges the critical importance of tension between elite conservatism and popular conservatism, he condemns the Bush administration for its ineptitude, and warns that votes for “ordinary people” are not, in themselves, a path to good government as populist demagogues claim. He continues:

Experienced leaders can certainly blunder if their minds have rigidified (see: Rumsfeld, Donald), but the records of leaders without long experience and prudence is not good. As George Will pointed out, the founders used the word “experience” 91 times in the Federalist Papers. Democracy is not average people selecting average leaders. It is average people with the wisdom to select the best prepared.

Sarah Palin has many virtues. If you wanted someone to destroy a corrupt establishment, she’d be your woman. But the constructive act of governance is another matter. She has not been engaged in national issues, does not have a repertoire of historic patterns and, like President Bush, she seems to compensate for her lack of experience with brashness and excessive decisiveness.

The idea that “the people” will take on and destroy “the establishment” is a utopian fantasy that corrupted the left before it corrupted the right. Surely the response to the current crisis of authority is not to throw away standards of experience and prudence, but to select leaders who have those qualities but not the smug condescension that has so marked the reaction to the Palin nomination in the first place.

Nicely put, David, and a very gracious way of admitting that things have gone tragically, fatally awry under the Presidency of that guy a majority of voters actually did not want to have a beer with, but the oil industry and the financial industry did. And in case anyone has noticed, there is a growing movement of conservative intellectuals who are turning on the McCain candidacy because of his choice of Sarah Palin, her lack of seasoning, the ethical questions about her policies as governor, and the kind of cynicism about the electorate that the choice of such a person represents when there were so many better qualified people (many of whom were extreme social conservatives, many of whom were women.) Some of us might argue that this cynicism about the voting public is only the Reagan candidacy carried to an extreme, but as someone who is studying that period, I would say the jury is out on this one. Perhaps the great untold story of the first Reagan administration is how people around the president rejected social extremism, over and over again, while simultaneously pursuing the kinds of changes in the nation’s regulatory structure that ultimately produced the crisis we are living with this morning. It is a complicated history to say the least.

Um, Jim — I’m in the office all day if you want to give me a ring.

But let’s get back to the Second Great Depression, and to its more local effects. Many of us stopped opening our investment report from TIAA-CREF over a year ago, although I am heartened to see they have not yet been mentioned in this collapse, difficult as it may be to imagine that they too are not implicated in the subprime mortgage market scandal. However, we in the academy can’t begin to understand yet how the current crisis will affect us. One of the things I wonder is how many students will begin to find that their highly leveraged parents are unable to pay the bills? And do places like Zenith have anywhere near the resources to plug the gap for students who are suddenly in need of financial aid packages? And I am not just talking about the children of the super-rich, of which we have a-plenty. How about the children of the secretaries and administrative assistants and janitors and coffee vendors of the super-rich? We aren’t seeing many photos of them leaving Lehman Brothers, are we? (Although, since those photos and video look more like a perp walk than anything else, that may be ok.) Their children go to Zenith too. And we are going to have to come up with the money to help all of them.

Some people are frantic right now about the future: I’m just thanking my lucky stars that I am healthy enough and young enough to work for a couple decades. And kind of fascinated that what I began thinking about as a dissertation field back in 1984 is happening all over again.

And hoping that the American people get out there in November and vote for Roosevelt, not Hoover.

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