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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Paul Krugman: Desperately Seeking Seriousness

Why was the financial crisis a turning point in the election?:

Desperately Seeking Seriousness, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Maybe the polls and the conventional wisdom are all wrong... But right now the election looks like a ... solid victory, maybe even a landslide, for Barack Obama...

Yet just six weeks ago the presidential race seemed close, with Mr. McCain if anything a bit ahead. The turning point was the middle of September, coinciding precisely with the sudden intensification of the financial crisis... But why has the growing financial and economic crisis worked so overwhelmingly to the Democrats’ advantage? ...

I’d like to believe that the bad news convinced many Americans, once and for all, that the right’s economic ideas are wrong and progressive ideas are right. And there’s certainly something to that. ...

But I suspect that the main reason for the dramatic swing in the polls is something less concrete... As the economic scene has darkened, I’d argue, Americans have rediscovered the virtue of seriousness. And this has worked to Mr. Obama’s advantage, because his opponent has run a deeply unserious campaign.

Think about the themes of the McCain campaign... Mr. McCain reminds us, again and again, that he’s a maverick — but what does that mean? His maverickness seems to be defined as a free-floating personality trait, rather than being tied to any specific objections ... to the way the country has been run for the last eight years.

Conversely, he has attacked Mr. Obama as a “celebrity,” but without any specific explanation of what’s wrong with that...

And the selection of Sarah Palin ... clearly had nothing to do with what she knew or the positions she’d taken — it was about who she was, or seemed to be. Americans were supposed to identify with a hockey mom who was just like them.

In a way, you can’t blame Mr. McCain for campaigning on trivia — after all, it’s worked in the past. Most notably, President Bush got within hanging-chads-and-butterfly-ballot range of the White House only because much of the news media, rather than focusing on the candidates’ policy proposals, focused on their personas: Mr. Bush was an amiable guy you’d like to have a beer with, Al Gore was a stiff know-it-all, and never mind all that hard stuff about taxes and Social Security. And let’s face it: six weeks ago Mr. McCain’s focus on trivia seemed to be paying off handsomely.

But that was before the prospect of a second Great Depression concentrated the public’s mind.

The Obama campaign has hardly been fluff-free — in its early stages it was full of vague uplift. But the Barack Obama voters see now is cool, calm, intellectual and knowledgeable, able to talk coherently about the financial crisis in a way Mr. McCain can’t. And when the world seems to be falling apart, you don’t turn to a guy you’d like to have a beer with, you turn to someone who might actually know how to fix the situation.

The McCain campaign’s response to its falling chances of victory has been telling: rather than trying to make the case that Mr. McCain really is better qualified to deal with the economic crisis, the campaign has been doing all it can to trivialize things again. Mr. Obama consorts with ’60s radicals! He’s a socialist! He doesn’t love America! Judging from the polls, it doesn’t seem to be working.

Will the nation’s new demand for seriousness last? Maybe not — remember how 9/11 was supposed to end the focus on trivialities? For now, however, voters seem to be focused on real issues. And that’s bad for Mr. McCain and conservatives...: right now, to paraphrase Rob Corddry, reality has a clear liberal bias.

Brad DeLong disagrees.

    Posted by on Sunday, October 26, 2008 at 12:33 AM in Economics, Politics | Permalink  TrackBack (1)  Comments (47)


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