There is little question that the presidential race will tighten as Election Day approaches. It always does. But absent an apocalyptic event, Barack Obama will cruise across the finish line ahead of John McCain in the most important election since Franklin Roosevelt beat Herbert Hoover in the depths of the Great Depression.
I do not make that cross-generational comparison lightly because in 1932 things were sucky in a way that none of us — excepting a precious few long-lived grandmothers and great uncles — are able to recall.
And while I do not have the chops to predict whether we are on the verge of another depression, it is clear that no one in a position of responsibility — whether they work on Wall Street, in Washington, the City of London or Tokyo — has a clue as to how the global economic conflagration of the vanities can be extinguished since throwing trillions of dollars, euros and yen into the flames in the form of rescue packages has had little effect in restoring confidence in what obviously is a badly-broken economic system.
This brings me to the second presidential debate and the sit-up-in-bed realization (because I happened to be lying down at the time) that even if McCain had the chops and even if Obama had a resume longer than a page and change, the cold fact of the matter is that they have been battling for the privilege of sitting in the cockpit of an airplane that has become aerodynamically unstable, to paraphrase an astute antipodean blogger.
The title of this post is cribbed from “When the Hunter Gets Captured By the Game,” a song that Smokey Robinson wrote for the Marvelettes back when Barack Obama still had training wheels on his bicycle.
“Hunter” seems to be about love, but like many great songs its lyrics have a timeless universality that fit events years in the future that would seem to have nothing to do with it’s surface theme — a romancer who chases someone for the thrill of the hunt only to find that they have become the prey.
That is a pretty close approximation to what has happened to Obama, who is trying to stay on a bicycle of another kind as he pedals toward November 4 and Inauguration Day.
I do not believe that Obama expected to outlast a primary field chockablock with veteran Democrats, let alone become the 44th president of the United States. This man, an African-American no less, has earned his improbable front runner status by dint of being able to channel a big ego, extraordinary self-confidence and enormous cool into themes that are resonating with anxious voters, but could not have anticipated having to confront a conflagration so enormous that a task like ending the war in Iraq seems so much less treacherous.
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I was relieved that Obama bobbed and weaved when debate moderator Tom Brokaw asked him who he would choose to be his Secretary of the Treasury. An October evening in Nashville is no time to be making premature commitments.
While Obama is being accused of being vague beyond some spot-on finger pointing about the conflagration’s underlying causes, that’s just fine with me because stabilizing the economy is not the half of it.
Easing the transition to the radically different place the U.S. will become in the post-bonfire world is the other half.
This includes building in the systemic checks and balances to prevent future disasters and this is going to take an effort that will require a heck of a lot more than massive bailouts, tinkering with interest rates and throwing a few Gordon Gekko types in the slammer to appease the lynch mob.
Obama also caught flak for saying during the debate that any recovery plan should have a green component; that is, building a new clean-energy infrastructure that won’t merely provide jobs to building trades people idled because of the downturn, but will lay the groundwork for beginning to wean the U.S. from its addiction to fossil fuels. And while he’s at it, how about addressing that hallmark of the Age of Bush — spiking income inequity — which also is long past due. Seriously.
Is the hunter Obama, having now become the prey, up to the task?
I have grave doubts that he is, but that has less to do with his skimpy resume than the institutional, social and political forces (the latter including vengeful Republicans) that will line up against what will have to be a revolution in governance only slightly less profound than that which confronted FDR.