Last week, John McCain was saying that our economy was fundamentally strong. Now, he’s in such a panic he’s ready to suspend his presidential campaign just over a month before citizens go to vote. Watching McCain handle the economic crisis, it scares me to think about how he would deal as commander in chief with hot-button issues of war and peace.
The problem is that McCain seems willing to do anything to act like a “maverick,” even in situations where we need a steady and smart hand. When every economist was saying we were in trouble, he said we were doing well and Wall Street needed no regulation. Then, literally hours later, after his advisors got a hold of him, he said we were in crisis and proposed massive changes, including firing the head of the SEC and building a new regulatory apparatus to deal with unchecked corporate greed. There was no thought process to get him from one side of the debate to the other – he just seemed to jump from one unusual position to another on the opposite end of the spectrum thinking these unusual positions would show how he’s different. Indeed, his views are different – recklessly different than the mainstream. Now, he’s suspending his presidential campaign because he thinks we are in such turmoil that a 2-hour debate would dislodge our economy. Is this the stable leader we want with his hand on the red button?
And perhaps what upsets me most about all this is that McCain never had a preventive strategy. Until Wall Streeters started losing their jobs, the economy was strong in McCain’s mind. Never mind the massive home foreclosures. Never mind the crying out from economists on our unsustainable debt levels. Never mind the job losses among ordinary Americans. Then, Lehman traders lose their shirts and suddenly it’s a full-blown a crisis.
Listening to President Bush last night, I couldn’t help but feel that McCain shares Bush’s complete inability to comprehend nuance. Bush has gone from free market cheerleader to suddenly being so convinced that we need government action that he says if we don’t act immediately we will face a “long and painful recession.” Bush did not even acknowledge the possibility our economy could bounce back with a smaller initiative. It was the same oversimplified logic – do exactly what I say or there will be immediate and grave danger – that led us into the Iraq war.
We need a President who understands nuance and has the patience to make wise long-term decisions. And McCain seems to lack both nuance and patience. He frames his unusual decision-making style in terms of “change” and “reform,” but it is actually more of the same recklessness that got us into an unnecessary war in Iraq. The last thing we need right now is more firings, more angry rants about greed, or more stunts like canceling debates. What we need more than ever is smart, stable leadership that can inspire our country and the world to trust us again.