Financial crisis fails to get its just due with TV talking heads

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

It's hard to know where to start in dissecting the inane debate on the economic crisis that has dominated the presidential race in recent days.

Commentators, particularly of the cable television variety, have probed Sarah Palin's (suspect) chops for running a Fortune 500 company, recounted John McCain's (nonexistent) role in inventing the BlackBerry and repeated Barack Obama's (nebulous) bleatings about "change."

Armed with these scraps of near-news, horse-race junkies -- like the terminally hopped-up Chris Matthews of MSNBC -- then launched new rounds of soulless palavering.

Can Obama capture economically disadvantaged whites? Is the bloom off the Palin rose? Can Washington veteran McCain sell himself as a populist reformer? Can Jill Biden dance the samba?

OK, no one actually raised that last one. But they might as well have, given the substance-lite quality of the political coverage as the nation faces its most unsettling financial storm in memory.

Here's a shout out to the few news organizations, led by Bloomberg News, that have set aside the blathering long enough to look at what McCain and Obama actually have done in the past.

Bloomberg reporters Alison Fitzgerald and Christopher Stern found that Obama's record on economic reform was "thin" and that McCain now pledged to become a regulator although he "has spent most of his quarter-century in Congress advocating deregulation."

The Bloomberg reporters detailed how the Arizona senator supported deregulation of the financial services industry in 1999 while, at other times, opposing greater controls on derivatives trading and other measures.

While now talking tough about overpaid executives, the reporters noted that McCain just last year opposed a House measure that would have allowed shareholders to take nonbinding votes on executive pay.

As recently as February, McCain called himself a "deregulator" and argued to "keep government out of these issues and policies."

The Bloomberg story does not leave McCain's cupboard bare on the regulation front. It reports that in 2003, the Republican pushed legislation to "create a new supervisor" for the government-sponsored mortgage lenders that are at the root of much of the current crisis.

But McCain clearly needed more to flesh out his stance as the tough new sheriff of Wall Street.

Fred Barnes on Fox News wondered: "John McCain says he's going to regulate. But what does he have in mind?"

Barnes could have asked the same of Obama.

The Democrat didn't arrive in Washington until 2005, and so missed many debates about oversight of the financial system. He pushed legislation the following year to rein in fraudulent mortgages and spoke out last March about improving regulation of Wall Street -- the sort of measures McCain now appears to be embracing, Bloomberg reported.

Meanwhile, don't look to either of the vice presidential nominees for a clearer view of how we get out of this mess.

Joe Biden? The media seems to have lost him somewhere around the time the Republicans rolled out Sarah Palin.

And Palin? She is yet to subject herself to a news conference where she would have to field questions from all quarters.

And the Alaska governor's most recent interlocutor, Fox's Sean Hannity, didn't challenge Palin's most pallid bromides.

Palin, for instance, blamed the recent financial failures on "these CEOs and top management people . . . being addicted to, we call it, OPM, O-P-M, 'other people's money.' "

It's not surprising the candidates are flummoxed by a meltdown like none we have seen in our lifetimes. But reporters need to keep boring in and asking what they would do, specifically, other than feeling really, really worried about the fate of Joe and Josephine Voter.

Why can't Obama, for instance, say clearly whether he would support bailouts of AIG and Washington Mutual? It seems like the eloquent senator should be able to come up with a yes or no answer.

And can McCain please specify one type of regulation he would now favor? He's demonstrated there are many he opposes.

More serious fixes have been suggested by those outside the electoral fray, like the former Treasury secretary, Federal Reserve chairman and comptroller of the currency who called Wednesday for a temporary agency, like the Resolution Trust Corp. of 1989-95, to help restore a sense of order, not to mention liquidity. Nicholas Brady, Paul Volcker and Eugene Ludwig floated that one in an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal.

If we can get away from the BlackBerries and poll results for a day or two, maybe we can find out what Obama and McCain think of the idea.

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad