Why The Candidates Avoid Talking About The Financial Crisis

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Why The Candidates Avoid Talking About The Financial Crisis

September 30, 2008 Persuasion Politics 7

In the first Presidential debate last Friday, it seemed that both candidates sought to avoid an argument over the unfolding financial crisis. McCain simply avoided answering the economic questions asked of him, and answered unasked questions instead, about earmarks/spending, that did him little good. The $700 billion figure is an iceberg moving through our national consciousness, and $18 billion is, comparatively speaking, a snowball. And Obama kept his focus on tying McCain to Bush.

What was the persuasive purpose of this? Why avoid such an obvious problem that could illustrate real leadership, and such an obviously important area of real debate? It may still happen in the final debate, but I think the reason it didn’t turn into a brawl at this point is that in a finger pointing game, there’d be no end to it.

Instead, both candidates want you to consider that this election is about running against the entire system. One claims to be the insider who has operated like an outsider and knows how to change it, the other an outsider who has been inside just long enough to know how to change it.

McCain’s problem is that he can’t go near the financial crisis without someone pointing out how closely tied he is to it. So all that’s left to him is to shake your confidence in his opponent, get you to be afraid of his youth and inexperience, and raise concerns about your pocketbook (which is being emptied as we speak.)

Here’s an interesting video that highlights just how bad a problem McCain has in this area.


Obama doesn’t need to get into all the specifics of this meltdown. He only needs to succeed at tying McCain to Bush.


That’s because a majority of Americans believe that


1. Thanks to Bush, we’ve been pouring our national youth and treasure into Iraq instead of addressing problems at home, and that the reasons for doing that just don’t add up.


2. Thanks to Bush, we’ve been engaged in policies that were good for the rich and destructive to the middle class.

3. Thanks to Bush, we’ve been ignoring the big issues facing our nation in favor of divisive social issues that keep us from solving our problems.

4. Thanks to Bush, an unprecedented amount of cronyism (good job Brownie) and corruption (don’t get me started!) has seeped into every area of our governance

5. Thanks to Bush, a good many of the ideals and values that we were taught as kids (might doesn’t make right, for example) have been shredded for the sake of reasons shrouded in inexplicable secrecy

6. Thanks to Bush, the world is a much more dangerous place (less secure, more damaged environmentally, fewer allies who trust us, more terrorist groups, less economically stable, etc.), and we are far less prepared to deal with the new world disorder because of an overstretched military and an economy in shambles.

The collapse of the market casino seems, at least to people paying attention at an emotional level, to be the fault of the person, and his party, who has been in power, a President that has been so arrogant, made so many mistakes and allowed or encouraged so many bone headed choices over the last 8 years that they are too many to count. If Obama can successfully tie McCain to Bush in the majority of American voters’ minds (and assuming there is little monkey business at the polls…something that is still in doubt), he triumphs in the election.

McCain gave up his outsider status when he chose to stand by W at almost every turn in the road, embrace the ‘agents of intolerance’ that he spoke out against in 2000, and even adopt W’s campaign tactics that were used against himself in his campaign against Obama. I believe this choice about how to run his campaign has cost him a lot of love and support from moderate voters like myself who thought he was a breath of fresh air back in 2000. And I think this makes Obama’s persuasion work much easier, and McCain’s much harder.

Neither candidate stands to gain more than they might lose by demonstrating real leadership on the financial crisis. Better to go along to get along, to make a few noises and claims, and stick with their game plans. The alternative just isn’t worth it.

What do you think about all this? I’d love to hear your comments.

be well



7 Responses

  1. Greg Thompson says:

    So how can we persuade the politicians to be more forthright and deal with the real challenges? How do we persuade them to work for their constituents instead of working to be elected?

  2. J.D. Meier says:

    Does it boil down to being associated with “feeling good” and moving away from being associated with “feeling bad”? It seems like a key piece of stigma, perception, metaphors is the emotional link (like the feeling) to a either a positive or negative. All the logic gets overruled then by the character or emotion.

  3. Hi Greg, thanks for the comment!

    These are great questions. On my birthday, we had a conversation among friends about citizen participation, and how little most of know about it. Unfortunately, the system (and the politicians who populate it) has organized itself to defend against inputs (people with ideas and information) unless those inputs come with money. Incumbents figure they are safe, so they don’t have to listen to the ‘little’ people, as long as they have the cash to broadcast their spin to the viewing and listening audience.

    The good news is that when everything is in flux, getting something to change becomes much easier than when a system is stable. So this is a great time to work for change…to call on our politicians to step up or step down.

    I wish I had an easy answer. Good citizenship requires us to get involved. To speak up and speak out persuasively and intentionally, to gather allies, to make a case. This blog is my attempt to empower people who hope to achieve just what you’ve asked about!

    best wishes,

  4. Greg, I’ve been thinking about your questions.

    Here’s another idea on the subject of why politicians aren’t more responsive and responsible. I think they’ve almost universally fallen into the trap of telling us what we want to hear instead of providing actual leadership. They were trained to do this by polls and other voter manipulations, by angry cranks on whatever side of the political spectrum they were leaning away from to begin with, and by single issue voters who will gladly sacrifice the good of the country, state, county, community for that one issue whose importance means the most to them personally . I suspect that most people in office have a visceral fear of being voted out of office and develop an almost knee-jerk ‘do whatever it takes’ mentality to hold on to their position. The higher the office, the harder I think it is to find real leadership and accountability. So is it any wonder that ambitious political professionals are unable and unwilling to provide leadership?

    When we the people start encouraging our representatives to take the big picture into account, including side effects and consequences, and then to exercise their best judgment in making the call, and then let them know we will stand by them even when we disagree with them if they simply DO WHAT THEY BELIEVE IS RIGHT (and can make that case to us,) we’ll live in a much more responsive and responsible system. Of course, that is more likely to happen on the planet where the unicorns roam, so I’m not holding my breath.

    This is what makes all effective politics local. At the local level, you still have some access, some ability to hold leaders to account. They have to face you on the street, see you in the store, take your calls.

    Still, if you care about the larger issues, the ones happening at the state and federal and, yes, planetary level, you have to at least try to let your representatives know what you want from them. And the more of us that practice such good citizenship, that send the message of support for leadership instead of lies, the more likely it is that will get the kind of leadership we’d like to deserve.


  5. J.D.

    Thanks for the comment. I think the voter, at the end of the day (election cycle) ultimately decides at a gut level, based on fear and desire. But some vote more based on fear, others more based on desire. I can’t help but see this presidential campaign as a competition between safety (fear of loss of) and self actualization (desire for a better world.) What makes it more interesting now, though, is that fear has become a moving target, what with the economic meltdown that’s occurred.


  6. Michael says:

    Neither candidate has the appropriate credentials to deal with this economic crisis, it is doubtful that persuasive skills would hide there inexperience. Both McCain and Obama should admit that they do not have all the answers, and than proceed to explain to the American public how they would go about getting the answers, and to whom they would turn to co-counsel. Unfortunately, both McCain and Obama are too proud and afraid to tip there hand, that is unlikely that they will give the American public any insight into how they intend to steer the country.

  7. Good point, Michael.

    I think the first candidate to develop a clear and persuasive message about what he’ll do to clean up this mess wins the election! That’s different than just talking about Bush and the past. And I take your point about persuasion to heart. Style PLUS Substance will always kick the keister of mere Style. Further, I think that fear is a kick in the rear, but the desire for solutions, for leadership, for a focus on the future is stronger in the long haul. So far, I don’t hear either candidate doing anything other than offering indictments and vague generalities. And now wonder. IT IS TRULY A MESS! (And I’m apparently looking for opportunities to use the word ‘kick’…as in ‘kick the rascals out that made this mess!)

    be well

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