I put up a poll in last night's live debate post, and the answer I chose was the one that was by far the least popular. Who won? I said "both," the answer that got only 1% of the vote. I answered that like a kindergarten teacher that wants all the children to feel good about themselves. Oh, you were all just fine. You were likable enough.
What that means is, I don't expect that much from people or government. I don't get too high when I'm high, and I don't get too low when I'm low. Neutrality is a comfortable stance for me, so my "cruel neutrality" vow has been easy to keep, the opposite of a burden, a liberation.
Who am I supporting in the presidential contest? You shouldn't know, because I don't know. In fact, I'm positioning myself in a delicate state of unknowing, a state I hope to maintain until October if not November... So I'm taking a vow of neutrality... cruel neutrality.It's October now, so I can say I kept my vow. It's not the vow keeping me neutral anymore. I don't like deciding, especially between 2 men I've long viewed as dangerously inadequate. The tumultuous financial crisis reminds me why I prefer to wait until the end: We get a better idea of what problems will plague the new President.
It is the response to the present crisis that mattered most last night, and the candidates tiresomely repeated old talking points. McCain kept trying to stoke outrage over earmarks, and Obama continued to lecture us about conserving energy. They clung to their old pet solutions when we are staring at a huge new -- I mean, newly perceived -- problem. Are they so utterly lacking in creativity and flexibility that they cannot offer us anything new in the face of dramatically changed circumstances? Or are they both just determined to play it safe and say nothing in these last few weeks that can be spun against them?
The first half hour of the debate was excruciating, with question after question about the crisis. The candidates' evasions were mind-numbing, and, despite my commitment to live-blogging, I had no words, not even little idle comments. I nearly gave up.
But this morning, I decided to make an effort to say which man had done the better job. It was Barack Obama. And I'm not saying this just because I admired his relaxed demeanor and youthful image and felt uneasy about the older man's jerky movements and desperate grimaces. I'm saying it because I am inclined to think that with the development of complex securities and the pursuit of profit along the edge of disaster, the free market failed spectacularly. When we need new regulation, Obama effectively associated McCain with his party's love of deregulation.
McCain offered no defense of his party, only assertions that he had tried to get regulations passed. So, there he was, embedded in failure. He didn't stand by the principles of conservatism. Here's the transcript. The word "conservative" appears exactly once, when McCain said (about Social Security):
We know what the problems are, my friends, and we know what the fixes are. We've got to sit down together across the table. It's been done before.I don't believe we really understand the problems or "the fixes," and I certainly don't believe that reaching across the aisle works magic. That's not a basis for solving a problem, but a technique that works to some extent when you have a solution.
I saw it done with our -- our wonderful Ronald Reagan, a conservative from California, and the liberal Democrat Tip O'Neill from Massachusetts. That's what we need more of, and that's what I've done in Washington.
Look at how McCain failed to promote conservatism. McCain brought up Ronald Reagan 3 times: once to say he opposed him about sending troops to Lebanon and the other 2 times to say it was wonderful the way he worked with the liberal Tip O'Neill.
McCain never presented the conservative alternative to Obama. He never even called himself a conservative last night. He was wandering all over that red carpet, microphone in hand, and I have the feeling, in retrospect, that he was truly bewildered, mouthing old phrases, trying to slip by. But one old phrase that was missing was "I'm a proud conservative." Remember when he used to say that?
Or did he? Remember this?
See? That was always the problem. And now, it's really showing. McCain has lost definition. He's stumbling along to the finish line, hoping to achieve his lifelong ambition, to seize the crown at last. But why? To show he can get along with Democrats? I worry about what awful innovations the new President will concoct in league with the Democratic Congress, but at this point, I'm more worried about McCain than Obama.
This is not a commitment to vote for Obama, and I'm still going to provide the service of observing events from my slouchily neutral posture, to which no vow currently binds me. But you see the trend, and the destination is almost inevitable.
ADDED: I should have paid more attention to this. I heard it last night, but couldn't understand how it would deal with the crisis. It seems like a massive government benefit going out to people who overextended themselves taking loans. Why not give money to all the frugal people who believed they couldn't afford to buy a house? I don't understand the theory, other than as political pandering.