This weekend's disastrous financial news was a great opportunity for at least two people: John McCain and Barack Obama. During an election year when the economy is consistently rated by voters as one of their greatest concerns, neither candidate has been able to effectively master the issue. Both McCain and Obama have failed to connect with voters on an effective economic message. So today, when everyone is talking about the fate of several legendary Wall Street institutions, what did the presidential hopefuls have to say? Well, nothing, actually. Here's the only segment from McCain's official statement on his Website that isn't a lame platitude or explanation of what we already know:
I am glad to see that the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department have said no to using taxpayer money to bailout Lehman Brothers, a position I have spoken about throughout this campaign. We are carefully monitoring the financial markets, including the duress at Lehman Brothers that is the latest reminder of ineffective regulation and management. Efforts must also be focused on ensuring that the deposits of hardworking Americans are protected.
Obama vaguely jumped at the opportunity to tie McCain to the current administration's economic bungles.
I certainly don’t fault Senator McCain for these problems, but I do fault the economic philosophy he subscribes to. It’s a philosophy we’ve had for the last eight years — one that says we should give more and more to those with the most and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else. It’s a philosophy that says even common-sense regulations are unnecessary and unwise, and one that says we should just stick our heads in the sand and ignore economic problems until they spiral into crises.
Well now, instead of prosperity trickling down, the pain has trickled up — from the struggles of hardworking Americans on Main Street to the largest firms of Wall Street.
The Fed's refusal to bail out Lehman Brothers should be a great opportunity for McCain to talk about how he's been right on this all along, and Obama has a good thing going with the "pain trickling up" message. With their differing stances on regulation, they at least have something real to argue about here. (For Obama in particular, this is an opportunity to shift the story away from Palin tailspin.) But both need to do a lot better on this today if they are ever going to effectively communicate with voters on the economy. They need to show that they understand what happened (even if they don't) and what needs to happen next. So far, they haven't, and it's not clear that they will.
Statement from Senator Obama on the Situation in Financial Markets [BarackObama.com]
Statement By John McCain On The Financial Markets [JohnMcCain.com]
Earlier: Holy Effing Crap: Wall Street in Flames