Thursday, September 18, 2008


Meltdown on Wall Street; Smackdown for the White House?

I felt guilty in the run-up to Liberal Democrat Conference for writing nothing about the Democrat and Republican Conventions, despite watching way too many of their speeches – the good, the bad, and Tom Ridge. Hopefully you’ve kept up to date by reading Paul Walter’s outstanding US elections coverage (832 posts in September alone). My impression’s that the Democrats had a successful Convention but, hamstrung by having no idea how to tackle Sarah Palin, have faltered since. Now bad news may be good news for them as life continues to imitate art and, particularly, the climax of The West Wing.

If you followed that brilliant but patchy series – two stunning years that were among the best TV ever made, descending into something slower and more banal before recovering for a tense final year and a half in a close race for the White House – you’ll remember just how those last few months went with an eerie feeling of déjà vu. The Democrats finishing a long and fractious primary contest by picking the youthful, gifted candidate with a message of change, the first non-white Presidential nominee in US history, teamed with a much older Washington insider as his running mate; the Republicans picking an older, veteran senator perceived as more moderate than most of his party, but teamed with a youthful, more exciting theocrat to keep the religious maniacs in his party on side… Well, now there seems to be more.

The other week, when President Bush announced the largest nationalisation in the history of the world - $75 trillion, and without even proper control to safeguard the huge cheques from taxpayers underwriting it – I wondered just what there was left for Republicans to vote for, other than hating the Democrats and hoping Sarah Palin will become President and announce the Rapture. After eight years of racking up a deficit so vast that it’s almost incomprehensible, George W Bush doubled it at a stroke to bail out the ‘free market’ (not that I think much of the Democrats’ current anti-free-trade platform either, but at least President Clinton paid off the national credit card). Last night Naomi Klein, a talking head on Newsnight, described the Bush economic approach as “Socialism for the rich”. So Republicans screaming shrilly about Barack Obama and “socialised medicine” somehow sound like very small change indeed. When the polls were turning in favour of John McCain, I wondered if President Bush had already decided the Democrat candidate was going to win and was finding the biggest conceivable way to trash the place and stiff President Obama for the bill.

So how does this relate to that West Wing ‘story’ (spoilers follow, though I don’t say who wins). Seeing Wall Street in meltdown this week, with one after another of the world’s biggest investment banks collapsing and the American economy imploding, I can’t help thinking that this is one of those defining moments in an election period – and that it can’t be good news for the Republican Party, both the party of big (or, in the case of America, even bigger) money and the party currently in the White House. In The West Wing, the Republican candidate had been pulling ahead in the polls until a nuclear power plant in his state, one he’d been tied to over many years, suddenly went into meltdown. Overnight, the Democrats’ Matt Santos came back into contention in an instantly neck-and-neck race. Once again, it looks like the story of real life’s running in tandem, as financial meltdown makes US voters sit back and wonder about the Republicans as a safe pair of hands.

Lib Dem Conference / West Wing Studio 60 crossover / life imitating art moment: on Tuesday morning, Richard and I found ourselves pedeconferencing with Matt and Danny…

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Can I ask a question, as one who knows not too much about the intricacies of the financial markets? Do you think that George Bush as President would have thrown as many taxpayer dollars at companies like AIG and Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae if there hadn't been an election in 2.5 months?
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