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Recession Refocuses Campaign Strategies | The Nation

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Recession Refocuses Campaign Strategies

When Goldman Sachs announces recession and the Federal Reserve chairmanon the same day promises ready-to-go interest rate cuts, you can take itto the bank: the recession is official. The 2008 campaign'srefreshing spirit--the chorus of "change, change, change"--is joinedby a more traditional theme. "Jobs, jobs, jobs." Suddenly, everyonewants to sound like a Keynesian liberal, ready to prime the pump withfederal spending.

My advice to Barack Obama: look through the John Edwards file--he gotthere first--and borrow freely from his sound ideas for economicstimulus. Then double or triple Edwards' numbers to show your sincerity.Do this fast. Hillary Clinton is already out of the box with a planthe New York Times describes as the first fromany Democratic candidates.

Wrong. John Edwards was out front with aggressive anti-recessionproposals in early December. Act now, he said, don't wait for theofficial announcement. First, Congress should put up at least $25billion to stimulate job creation and be ready to spend another $75billion as things get worse. Spend the money on "clean energy"infrastructure, the housing crisis, reform of unemployment insurance,aid programs to help families get through hard times and other wounds.Get the money out to the folks who will spend it right now and topublic works projects that can create new jobs quickly.

Nothing fancy in the Edwards package, just the old-fashioned,meat-and-potato politics that used to make Democrats the party ofworking people. In the scale of what's happening to the economy, I thinkhis proposals are too modest. Bill Gross, the insightful managingdirector of PIMCO, the major bond-investment house, has called forvirtually doubling the federal deficit in order pump hundreds ofbillions into new economic activity. When bond holders are more alarmedabout the economy than political leaders, you know something isbackwards in American politics.

Edwards, alas, probably restrained the size of his stimulus package toconvince the media gatekeepers he is not wacko and thus win somecoverage for his forward thinking. No such luck. Edwards has his ownshortcomings, but he has been victimized by the shallow politicalculture that empties meaning from presidential campaigns. The pressearly on consigned him to the "populist" stereotype and largely ignoredthe serious content of his agenda.

This is the curse that leads to enervating, brain-dead presidentialcycles. Substance bores political reporters. Most of them do notunderstand economics or even know much about how government actuallyworks. Given their ignorance, they prefer to play the role of theatercritics and imagine that readers are desperate to hear their highlysubjective and utterly unreliable reviews of the sideshow.

Actually, it's worse than that, as we witnessed again in New Hampshireand Iowa. Reporters read the polls--slavishly rely on them--then goout and gather connect-the-dots tidbits that appear to confirm the pollresults. When polls are wrong, reporters are wrong. And shameless intheir denials of culpability.

If reporters were to give up the arrogant role of reviewers, they wouldhave to do real work--the unfashionable task of reporting on whatcandidates actually say. Then the diligent would subject the substance,not style, to critical analysis and reactions from many quarters. Thisdrudgery would seem humbling to the "boys on the bus." Most of them,anyway, are incompetent to do such work.

Barack Obama has a soaring message and charismatic authenticity, but heis vulnerable to mindless media judgments for almost an opposite reason.Despite his compelling rhetoric and character, Obama has left toomuch unsaid (or maybe we just haven't heard what he did say). If Obamaloses contests here or there, I expect another stereotype will beassigned by the reviewers to explain the results--Senator Lite. A niceenough guy but weak on substance, not ready for prime time.

From what I know about the man, that is a cruel distortion of his depthand temperament, but he does need to fill in some blanks. The recessiongives Obama a ripe opportunity to protect himself from media labeling,without changing character. First, produce the concrete policy proposalsdemanded by competitive campaign rituals. Then speak more loftily andambitiously about the American economy and what Obama envisions for themore distant future. What might it look like then years hence? How doeshe hope to get there? These are reasonable questions he has not yetaddressed, but can answer in broad strokes. Or maybe he already hasaddressed them and the media thought it sounded boring.

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