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by Alexander Cockburn

"Sweetened" Wall St. Bailout Becomes Law

In whatever years remain to him -- and the health prognoses for McCain are cloudy at best -- McCain should look back at the debate over the $700 billion bailout for Wall Street as the Rubicon he was too scared to cross. He spurned a huge chance to turn the tables on his all-too-decorous opponent. Instead he flopped around and then finished by making an ass of himself, claiming a vital role in successful passage of the bill, minutes before House Republicans, with 95 Democrats, voted it down.

McCain should have furiously denounced the bailout. There was no ideological impediment since the Arizona senator has no firm convictions beyond the precepts of his bankrollers, which can be quickly summed up as: fewer taxes for the rich. Everything else -- the thundering about earmarks, the calls for an abolition of "cost plus" in defense contracting (actually, a truly radical proposition if McCain believed a word of it) -- is hot air.

A McCain "No" to bailout would have put Barack Obama in a difficult position, exposing the timidity of his own posture and leaving him with the options of continuing as Wall Street's errand boy, his role to date, or, if he tried to outflank McCain from the left, as a wild-eyed radical.

But McCain's nerve failed him, and he declared himself to be Wall Street's errand boy too, same as Obama. In the opening exchanges of the debate, even the sedate Jim Lehrer became impatient as McCain and Obama fled the all-important matter of the economic crisis and the proposed bailout and retreated into campaign boilerplate about earmarks and tax cuts. Sacrifices? It should not have been hard for Obama to say, right up front in stentorian tones, "You ask, Sen. McCain, what I propose to cut in this hour of crisis. John, I propose to cut the war in Iraq. Here's what it has cost to date ... "

The bailout is hugely unpopular across the United States. There is near-universal unanimity on this, with the exception of the Wall Street, Washington and media elites. Every politician in Congress has been told by his or her office staff that phone calls are running at least 95 percent against the bailout.

This is why the Republicans in Congress have found it easy to resist the frantic appeals of Paulson, formerly of Goldman Sachs, instead saying no and leaving the Democrats to whinge and trim, with half-hearted "conditions" attached to the bailout and fake populist squeaks about reducing executive compensation. Will the Democrats also demand that the tycoons surrender all the money they stand to make if a bailout sends the value of their stock holdings soaring? I don't think I see the bankers' creature, Sen. Charles Schumer, insisting on that.

The 95 Democrats who bucked the orders that Nancy Pelosi in the House included many in their first terms in Congress. They don't feel secure, and they knew the welcome they'd get back home if they voted yes. Many of the Democrats who voted yes have been getting big contributions from Wall Street, just as has Candidate Obama.

The first function of any presidential debate is to demonstrate to the Big Money that both candidates are "safe" -- first on the matter of keeping the rich secure from worry. The second function is to assure all relevant lobbies that they are ready and willing to blow up the world if American "security" requires it.

In the requisite demonstrations, Obama and McCain sang in unison. They are as one with Wall Street. They are ready to blow up the planet. Three times, Obama said he completely agreed with the elderly crank opposite him. The interactions became progressively more hackneyed and absurd. Obama pledged to "take out" Osama bin Laden. McCain vowed to prevent another Holocaust of the Jews. Obama respectfully agreed with McCain that Vladimir Putin is a potential problem and that plucky Georgia needs America's succor. It was nauseating. Most of the world and its problems didn't feature at all. Latin America? Free trade?

Between the two of them, the candidates affirmed, often in identical terms, almost every lunatic policy position that has doomed George Bush's presidency and made America an object of derision and loathing among the nations.

A born trimmer, Obama is incapable of going for the jugular or even sounding as though he can take a firm stand on anything. This guy's no leader. He comes across as a trimmer and a wimp. McCain looks decisive by comparison. He's a throat slitter by temperament. He nicked Obama a couple of times, but the Wall Street tycoons went unscarred. At a ripe tactical moment, McCain declined the role he affects to love. When the chips are down, he's no maverick.

© Creators Syndicate

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Albion Monitor   October 3, 2008   (

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