It Really Is The Economy Stupid (Or Is It?)

Steve Benen produces the kinds of polling numbers that Obama supporters have been eagerly awaiting ever since the combination of Sarah Palin’s selection and the Republican convention shook up the state of the race.  Of chief significance in my mind is the breaking of historical precedent; whoever is holds the lead following the second convention typically holds onto that lead for a month or longer.  Not so in this case.

Benen’sfurther analysis of the data on hand indicates several factors at work here.  There is, of course we can’t ever stop talking about her, a nearly calamitous fall on Palin’s behalf.  Her favorables are plummeting, and support among women has sunk by over ten points. 

Seemingly tied up with this is the reemergence of the “enthusiasm gap”.  Conservatives once energized to support the McCain ticket (ostensibly by the selection of Sarah Palin as running mate) seem to have ebbed again back to pre-convention, pre-running mate announcement levels.  It’s difficult to overestimate the significance of this on the election as a whole; rarely talked about in the mainstream media, but oft discussed in the blogosphere, is the fact that Obama’s greatest asset in this race is his unprecedented grassroots organization that some believe allow him to generally outperform polling.  With enthusiasm for Obama remaining steady, in a nuts and bolts context, that means that more people will be making phone calls, registering voters, helping voters get to the polls, etc. for Obama than will be for McCain.

Finally, independents seem to have swung exceptionally towards Obama, giving him a 21 point edge over McCain in this vital bloc.

Over the course of the past two weeks, one need only turn on the tv, listen to the radio, or pick up a newspaper to obtain key insight into the shift in the presidential election; it’s the economy, stupid.  In my admittedly brief time in observing American politics, I have noted a curious, but understandable approach from Americans regarding how they address the issues of the day.

When it comes to National Security and Foreign Policy, one will note that despite inherent complexities dealing with other nations whose governmental construct and cultural make-up are vastly different and sometimes seemingly incompatable with our own, Americans tend to feel that they have a passing understanding on, perhaps not the intricacies, but what in general US response should be to various events that occur accross the globe.  There is far less timidity when it comes to making a call on how to deal with Russia, or the Middle East, or what have you.

I’ve no hard data to back up my assertions, nor to back up my theory as to why these assertions exist, but I think the role that the military plays in American culture perhaps leads us to a more arrogant understanding of national security and foreign policy among the average American than is probably warranted.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to dip deep into anti-American rhetoric, and I’m not even necessarily accusing America of military-worship here (though I know there are those who would).  As someone who served in the military for ten years, and is profoundly thankful to those who continue to serve in uniform, I have nothing but the utmost respect for the military.

My point is that the excellence in the military combined with a misunderstanding of its role, and a general unwillingness among mainstream America has created a dynamic in which we believe that the military can and should solve everything.  This is, mind you, a rough stroke of a more detailed theory, but suffice it to say that Americans generally don’t feel that National Security is as imposing a topic as the economy.  It’s, at least on the surface, easier to understand, the interest–American interest–is at least on the surface more clearly defined, and if all else fails, we have the finest military in the world that can sort everything out.  (Come on, how many people have you talked to that expressed an almost frustrated desire to turn the Middle East into a “glass parking lot”?).

But when we turn our eyes to the economy, Americans, on the average are not nearly as confident.  The issue of the Economy is riddled with complex and sometimes scarily enormous numbers.  There are dynamics at work that even very intelligent and educated people don’t understand.  The economy comes with its own baffling lexicon that is understood only by those who watch Mad Money and not just because the host is a little… enthusiastic; the Emeril of the money world.

Further, the competing interests of the economy are far from clear to the independent and uninitiated observer.  With Foreign Policy and National Security, you always put America and her allies first.  But in the economy, yes there is some openings for nationalism, but a lot of the prime movers are also competing domestic entities, and then there is the question of how is the good of one major institution necessarily translated to the good of the rest of the US population?  Or, put in the language that is of popular usage right now; how do the events on Wall Street affect Main Street?

Not being an expert in either, I dont’ know which of the two topics is objectively more complex; foreign policy or the economy.  But I do know that both are incredibly complex systems, and I can reasonably assume that it is easier for someone to convince themselves they are knowledgeable in the realm of foreign policy than they are in the realm of the economy.

Which brings me to something interesting I noted today.  Now, when it comes to events on the global stage, when polls come out, you won’t see 100% of the populace agree on anything, but the polls will, to a degree, tend to agree with each other, and then act on a sliding scale.  Support for the Iraq War, for instance, stayed constant in relation to each other from one poll to the next while overall exhibiting an aggregated downward trend over the years with specific events or lack of events occasionally allowing for minor upward increasing trends.

Contrast this to two separate polls just released sent to guage the public’s mood in regards to the proposed Wall Street bailout.  The Pew Research Center’s poll indicates that 57% of Americans approve of the government’s bailout, suggesting that, though there may be reservations, Americans understand that a bailout of some sort is necessary.  But, a Bloomberg, LA Times poll suggest that an almost equal percentage of Americans don’t support the bailout.  What’s going on here?

Frankly, I don’t exactly know; I would be remiss if I said that no two polls on the same subject disagreed so perfectly.  But what this says to me is that, well, Americans are confused.  We got hit, and we didn’t get hit in an area where Americans would be at least more firm in how they would want to respond; we got hit on that great, terribly, and mysterious economy machine that so few understand, and in as much we are likely very confused as to what a proper response should be.  On one hand, nobody wants to reward Wall Street for screwing everything up, on the other hand, it seems relatively clear that something must be done to at least prop up the institutions themselves for fear of allowign the entire economy to collapse brilliantly.

Further, as Naomi Klein has been warning, we don’t want to end up taking the fall now that Wall Street is handing its burden off to us.

It is this incident which has colored the presidential campaign, and has given Obama a significant advantage over his opponent.  According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll, Obama is now leading John McCain 52-43; the cross tabs pointing directly to the economy, and the public’s faith in Obama to handle it correctly, as the reason for the Democratic candidate’s rise in the poll.

It would seem to be a return of that good ol’ “it’s the economy, stupid.”  And to a degree it is, just as Democrats are breathing something of an electoral sigh of relief considering that they are more trusted to handle the economy than Republicans.

But I also see something at work here; I think we have also seen a difference not just in party affiliation and the goods and bads that come with it (Regardless of his expertiseon the issue, had the major crisis been one of National Security, Obama would be facing an uphill struggle), but also in leadership.  The economic meltdown on Wall Street has provided the American people with a glimpse into the leadership acumen of both potential presidents.

McCain has been brash, rash, haphazard, and about as wobbly as it gets:

By contrast, Obama has been firm, comforting, and prudent. He has not, necessarily, raced to prove he could be the first with any answer, but has negotiated the past few weeks cautiously as a leader to make sure we hit upon the right answer while at the very least opening up the aftermath with a serious and substantive speech on where we are on the economy, where we need to be, and how to get there.

This was backed up by the following ad:

Meanwhile, while the McCain/Palin ticket has been taking a cue from the current President in stonewalling any questions from the press, Obama held a press conference yesterday where he further refined his stance on the bailout–enumerating four key points that any bailout plan must include–as well as doing what McCain/Palin seem unwilling to do; answer questions.

So, yes, it is the economy stupid, and Obama is rightfully leading the field as a result of it. But I happen to think it’s something more; in a time when Americans just aren’t sure, there has been a panicked and flailing voice (McCain’s), and a calm, temperate, and informed voice (Obama’s), and Americans are clearly not just moving towards Obama because of the economy, but also because of leadership.

The fact of the matter is, because of this, should the focus of the election shift towards foreign policy in the home stretch through some external imposing force, I think Americans will be more willing to give Obama his due than they would any anonymous Democrat.

One Response to “It Really Is The Economy Stupid (Or Is It?)”

  1. Angellight says:

    (Yet, it Took 10 Years to Raise MinWage $1.00)

    “Rule one: Rush the decision. Time the game to fall in the week before Congress is set to adjourn and just 6 weeks before an historic election so your opponents will be preoccupied, pressured, distracted, and in a hurry.

    Rule two: Disarm the public through fear. Warn that the entire global financial system will collapse and the world will fall into another Great Depression. Control the media enough to ensure that the public will not notice this. Bailout will indebt them for generations, taking from them trillions of dollars they earned and deserve to keep.

    Rule three: Control the playing field and set the rules. Hide from the public and most of the Congress just who is arranging this deal. Communicate with the public through leaks to media insiders. Limit any open congressional hearings. Communicate with Congress via private teleconferencing calls. Heighten political anxiety by contacting each political party separately. Treat Members of Congress condescendingly, telling them that the matter is so complex that they must rely on those few insiders who really do know what’s going on!”

    (FYI: Republicans have blocked voting on bills by Dems for more oversight and regulation.)

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