We seem to be entering an intelude in the presidential contest in which candidates are now and then taking a break from frenetic campaigning to deliver themselves of Big Speeches on major topics. Yesterday John McCain gave a Big Foreign Policy Speech in LA apparently designed to establish a “break” with Bush-Cheney policies. The lede in Jonathan Martin’s Politico report on the speech nicely summarizes the fundamental problem with this effort:
Just back from a week of meetings with U.S. allies in Europe and the Middle East, John McCain today signaled that he would seek to repair the perception of America abroad. But he wouldn’t back down on a conflict that much of the world has come to despise.
McCain, speaking to an international affairs organization here, sought to explain his unique foreign policy outlook, one that mixes elements of conciliation rejected by the Bush administration with a stay-the-course approach to Iraq and a tough-minded stance toward other potential threats.
There’s lots of talk about talking in McCain’s speech: talking to other countries, listening to their point of view, and being open to persuasion. But when you’ve made an inflexible commitment to war in Iraq–and to the threat of war with Iran–the centerpiece of your national security message, it’s hard to conclude all the talking and listening will amount to much other than Cheneyism With a Human Face. But the immediate issue is whether the new media will credit McCain with a “break” with the administration, and even Martin’s relatively skeptical take seems to suggest this political goal will be at least partially successful.
Meanwhile, this morning in New York, Barack Obama delivered a “major speech” on economics–more specificallly, the financial and housing crisis. It will be most interesting to see how this speech is interpreted. Some will focus on the new policy content (notably a second stimulus package that sounds a lot like the one HRC proposed last week), or the very detailed, wonky analysis of the financial industry the candidate displays. Others will cite Obama’s brief hit on McCain for his cold approach to the housing problem, or his characterization of the Arizonan as determined to “run for Bush’s third term.”
But as a non-economist who can barely tell a hedge-fund from a hedgehog, what struck me most in a quick reading of the speech was Obama’s distinctly “third wayish” thematics on government’s role in regulating the economy. Check out these two graphs:
I do not believe that government should stand in the way of innovation, or turn back the clock to an older era of regulation. But I do believe that government has a role to play in advancing our common prosperity: by providing stable macroeconomic and financial conditions for sustained growth; by demanding transparency; and by ensuring fair competition in the marketplace.
Our history should give us confidence that we don’t have to choose between an oppressive government-run economy and a chaotic and unforgiving capitalism. It tells us we can emerge from great economic upheavals stronger, not weaker. But we can do so only if we restore confidence in our markets. Only if we rebuild trust between investors and lenders. And only if we renew that common interest between Wall Street and Main Street that is the key to our success.
In other sections of the speech, Obama discusses the destructive role of lobbyists–a common theme in his entire campaign–in terms of their distorting impact on competition and the efficient functioning of markets. This isn’t the sort of language that’s going to appeal to the neo-populists out there who want Democrats to attack corporate power as an evil in itself, or demand aggressive regulation as a matter of social justice and democracy, not opportunity and fair competition. But there’s no way you can read this speech and give much credence to the right-wing voices describing Obama as a crypto-socialist.