John McCain's Economic Plan: Laissez-Failure

Mr. Palermo is Associate Professor of American History at CSU, Sacramento. He's the author of two books on Robert F. Kennedy: In His Own Right (2001) and RFK (2008).

John McCain is running one of the most divisive, negative, and dishonorable presidential campaigns in modern history. By spreading the Big Lie that Barack Obama is a "terrorist sympathizer" who is not from the "real" America, McCain is fanning the flames of latent racism and xenophobia. He is doing everything in his power to divide and conquer the country. His robo-call smears and his surrogates' McCarthyite attacks against his Democratic opponent are strange ways to put "Country First." McCain wants to be president so badly he will do anything: Adopt the extreme social positions of James Dobson; put Karl Rove's Swift Boaters on the payroll; appoint a Christian Nationalist as his VP to stir up the faithful into a froth; and launch a racially-tinged class war against anyone who thinks the government might be able to do something positive for the working middle class.

Millions of Americans are reeling from record home foreclosures, rising unemployment, and shrinking retirement accounts and John McCain -- who married into a $100 million fortune and doesn't even know how many houses he owns -- is going around the country accusing Obama of being a "socialist" and ridiculing the idea of "spreading the wealth around." He promises to continue the Republican class war of recent years. McCain has shown that his real "base" consists of millionaires, billionaires, and huge corporations. Why else would he be still proposing, even after the epic failure of laissez-faire capitalism, more "trickle down" tax cuts to the wealthiest corporations and individuals along with more deregulation?

And what do you call a wealthy old white man who spends most of his time lying about, sliming, and producing false accusations and innuendo against the first African-American presidential candidate to be nominated by a major political party as well as against ACORN, a community organization that consists largely of low-income people of color?

A McCain administration would be a carbon copy of the Rovian "permanent campaign"; that epic failure Scotty McClellan outlines in What Happened, and the former head of Bush's faith-based programs, John DiIulio, summed up back in 2002: "What you've got is everything -- and I mean everything -- being run by the political arm. It's the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellians." The way McCain and his surrogates dismiss any criticism no matter how legitimate is strikingly similar to the Bush style. And the McCain campaign seems to have struck that perfect balance between incompetence and arrogance that characterized the Bush administration.

In the last year the average American household has shelled out nearly $3,000 in additional living expenses just to break even. Gasoline and home heating oil are far more expensive; health care premiums have increased exponentially (for those lucky enough to have health care); home values have declined steeply (for those lucky enough not to be facing foreclosure); and tuition costs for college have skyrocketed. We are bracing for an economic contraction the likes of which we have not seen since the Great Depression. Poverty, unemployment, and homelessness are going to increase over the next 18 months. (Just ask Fed Chair Ben Bernanke.) And the grand neo-con nation-building experiment in Iraq is draining away $10 billion each month that certainly could be put to better use here at home.

Meanwhile, the $1 trillion government welfare program called the "Wall Street Bail Out" is being squandered on a relative handful of individuals who need it the least. It is an outrage that the nine investment banks that have received $250 billion from the Treasury insist on paying dividends to their shareholders to the tune of $25 billion! Why don't we cut out the middleman and just hand over the $25 billion directly to the fat cats who still own most of the stock in those banks? There are golf junkets and pedicures and prostitutes to be procured! We mustn't deny these innovative people Republicans love so much -- these Wall Street "Joe the Plumbers" -- who pumped up the notional value of "credit default swaps" to $62 trillion the fruits of their labors! They deserve their first-class amenities! To deny them that which is rightfully theirs would be "socialistic!"

The epic failure of the laissez-faire ("laissez-failure"), "supply side," Milton Friedman, market fundamentalist ideology has only just begun to wreak its damage on American society and the world. Back in 1974, in the wake of Watergate and Richard Nixon's resignation, President Gerald Ford said: "Our national nightmare is over." Today, Bush's Treasury Secretary, Hank Paulson, should lapse into a rare fit of honesty and tell the American people: "Our national nightmare is just beginning." The contraction is on; there isn't going to be a "soft landing." Send your "thank you" cards and letters to the Republican National Committee.

During the bitter 1988 presidential campaign, George Herbert Walker Bush's smear-meister, Lee Atwater, famously declared that he was going to make voters believe that Willie Horton was Michael Dukakis's running mate. Steve Schmidt, the Karl Rove wannabe, is now trying to make voters believe that Bill Ayres is Obama's running mate.

And this brings me to the freak show that is Governor Sarah Palin.

Sarah Palin is a liar. She lied about being against the infamous "bridge to nowhere"; she lied about her abuse of power in "Troopergate" and her violating the Alaska Ethics in Government Act; she lied about charging per diem expenses to the state of Alaska for time spent at home; and most recently she lied about pilfering over $21,000 from Alaska taxpayers so her kids could go on expensive trips. The RNC forked over $150,000 so this "Jane Sixpack" could go on a lavish spending spree. She spent more money on stylish clothes in a matter of weeks than most families will spend over the course of a lifetime.

But far more disturbing than Palin's venality are her extreme Christian Nationalist religious beliefs. Just go to Youtube and see her standing there on stage, trancelike, praying while her pastor at the Wasilla Assembly of God Church talks about how Alaska is going to become a state of refuge for people when Armageddon comes. Palin not only holds the most extreme right-wing Christian views on abortion, gays, and creationism, she apparently believes we are in the Last Days. And she could be a heartbeat away from having her finger on the nuclear trigger. The only reason why McCain's boys, Rick Davis and Steve Schmidt, haven't thrown Reverend Wright in the faces of voters in the closing days of the campaign is because they know that Palin's whack-job pastors, including Pastor Thomas Muthee who specializes in exorcising witches, would immediately flood the airwaves.

And what about John McCain himself? What a Faustian bargain that man has made. He sold his soul, his heart, his liver, his spleen, and his mind. When George W. Bush was riding high so was John McCain. "My Friends" and "Maverick" will be perennial punch lines. He will be forever remembered for running one of the meanest, most discreditable presidential campaigns in American history. He sold out his country by choosing division over unity, lies over truth, jingoism over patriotism. And he did so at a time when the nation faces major peril and the American people are clamoring for thoughtful, steady, and honest leadership.

"Country First." Indeed.

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Raul A Garcia - 11/3/2008

On the economic malaise- this is a bipartisan issue and now that the Congress- we sometimes forget that branch of government- is majority Democratic let us not talk falsely. I believe Monsieur Clinton pushed free trade and globalism much in the same vein as Republicans did and are. I do agree the campaign rhetoric is demeaning and naive and voters are not as Neanderthal as some would portray them. Anyway, lighten up, I think the new kid on the block will win and then we take a deep breath and keep our fingers crossed.Both candidates drew out an imaginative "shell game" don't you think? It's only money.

Matt Palmer - 10/28/2008

I have not, and will not, disagree with the attack on McCain. However, the Republican party does not advocate laissez-faire capitalism. Republicans talk about deregulation, however they are not challenging such fundamental regulations such as the federal reserve, the FCC, FDIC, etc. These are regulations to which laissez-faire capitalists are opposed. To claim taxes are too high is not laissez-faire. Republicans advocate state corporatism. I do not disagree with the way this editorial portrays McCain and Palin. However, the statements about laissez-faire capitalism should be retracted. Calling Republicans laissez-faire capitalists is as accurate as calling Democrats communists.

Lorraine Paul - 10/28/2008

ooops! I think it should be 'casting' not 'throwing'.

Lorraine Paul - 10/28/2008

I do so enjoy your articles, Mr Palermo, however, quite often it is a case of 'throwing pearls before swine'.

The above quote in no way refers to putting lipstick on a pig! <g>

Joseph Palermo - 10/27/2008

It is really condescending to imply that the author is using laissez-faire inaccurately -- obviously he's referring to the centerpiece of Republican orthodoxy since Warren Harding -- let the markets work their magic with as little government regulation as possible -- isn't that what Milton Friedman, Alan Greenspan, Stephen Moore, John Fund, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, Larry Kudlow, John Stossel, Michael Medved ad infinitum -- believe?? Or have I been in a coma for the last 30 years??

Lisa Kazmier - 10/27/2008

It is asserted to be free and it's not; is that your beef?

McSame has long opposed any government regulation, so in that sense he advocates laissez faire. Of course, I doubt Adam Smith opposed regulation and a lot of free traders forget this. He even gave some support to unions.

Marty Drumm - 10/27/2008

As the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, clearly, there is no merit in a free market system. When individuals look out for themselves, the richest individuals will always prevail without regard for society. The result of our supply-side market attempt has been capitalism for the middle class and poor; and socialism for the rich.

Excellent article.

Matt Palmer - 10/27/2008

You would do well to spend the 30 seconds it would take to look up "laissez-faire capitalism". It is clear you are not familiar enough with this term to use it in your editorial. By using this term to describe McCain (you might also look up "state corporatism"), you expose your ignorance on the topic and slander those of us who find merit in a free market system.

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