Nearly 12 years ago, the housing bubble burst, taking the economy down with it. Bear Stearns was out, and the Bear Market was in. Lehman Brothers shattered, and Treasury Secretary Henry Poulson told Americans that our spacious skies were falling.
The presidential election campaign was in its autumnal swing, and the nominees were scheduled to hold their first debate. John McCain, the self-qualified mathphobe, suspended his campaign. Barack Obama followed suit, and both Senators returned to Washington.
What they did when they got there sealed the election. Obama sat in on meetings with various groups trying to manage the Economic Meltdown. He listened and took notes. The optics suggested that he knew what was needed. His campaign released statements saying that he had been in contact with the top economic policymakers throughout the spring and summer. McCain, on the other hand, ghosted. He turned up a day or two later, saying he was ready to resume his campaign. It was over, and he had to know it.
If there was any doubt before the seismic campaign occurrence, none remained. Obama appeared to be fit to lead in the financial debacle. More to the point, McCain seemed utterly lost. It was this appearance of performance￼ that swung the election, even more than McCain’s unfathomable choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate.
Gosh, it seems so long ago and such simpler times. Obama and his administration were ready on Day One to present a stimulus package and to negotiate deals to prop up the faltering auto industry. Congress didn’t give him everything he wanted, but it gave him enough to plug the drain and stop the national death spiral. The auto manufacturers survived, more or less, living to fail another day.
The global economy is in free fall again. World markets have crashed. Businesses, schools, cities, even countries are shutting down because of Covid-19, the spreading and dangerous coronavirus. The Trump White House was not ready on Day One, when intelligence became aware of the catastrophe taking shape in Wuhan, China. It wasn’t ready a month ago when public knowledge of this plague surfaced. Trump is still not prepared on Day 120, having fired and defunded America’s top scientific experts and diverted funds to his sandbox along the southern border.
The only thing Trump has offered so far on the economy is a decrease in payroll taxes. He’s offering to put a Band-Aid on a hemorrhage. People are going to need payroll relief, not payroll tax relief. There’s no payroll tax if there’s no payroll.
Trump’s in Florida, cheating on the golf course and holding a fundraiser. He’s anti-science and anti-learning. The only thing he can think to do is to cut a business tax. Trump is Calvin Coolidge without the 30th president’s laconic charm.
But Trump is not the main point here. Where are the Democrats? The two remaining viable candidates are in Michigan campaigning for today’s crucial primary. Biden and Sanders have announced that they are “heeding the advice of public officials.” In essence, handwashing instead of handshaking.
That’s it? Is nobody going to Washington? Is nobody sitting down with top medical and economic experts, setting up meetings with teams from other countries? In essence, these two old white guys are sparring with each other. They should step out of campaign mode and go into governance mode.
Sanders especially. He is now trailing Biden and needs a game-changer to persuade voters to trust him with the government, particularly on economic policy. Sanders could show everybody what democratic socialism looks like in crisis mode. He is not even talking about the disproportionate impact a crash will have on his followers, many of whom already are in financial jeopardy.
Nobody will care about the label of democratic socialist if Sanders actually can step into crisis and show that he can take control of a government in disarray. At least he should suggest the possibility that he can. More than Biden and even more than Trump, Sanders is making a tactical error by failing to address the Virus Crisis.
If either one of these two hopefuls approached this crisis the way Obama did in 2008, he would take a decisive step toward the nomination and, at the same time, get a leg up in the general election.
We didn’t know in 2008 if Barack Obama understood what he was hearing or could do anything about it. What we did know was that he was trying to wrap his arms around the worst economic downturn in the United States since 1929, and to learn what he needed to know to respond to it.
If the Democrats want to retake control of the government, they have to start looking like they know how to do it. Biden and Sanders should have teams of advisers holding meetings, and more importantly, they should let the public know that they’re doing it. The house is on fire, so too should be the House. Senate Democrats should be in high gear. If nothing else, someone should enlist Andrew Yang.
We don’t know if Bernie Sanders would get any of his progressive agenda through Congress, and we don’t know if Joe Biden can handle the daily rigors of the presidency. We need to know that they and their teams are on top of the Crash of 2020.