Earlier in the week, Jack suggested that this election is like The Matrix: The GOP is creating its own alternative truth, he argued, à la the virtual reality from the movie. I wonder if we aren't through the looking glass, a nation of Alices in a bizarre political wonderland.
Consider this week alone: After a fumbling start to financial disaster (the fundamentals of John McCain's poll numbers have gotten weaker and weaker as the week has gone on), McCain suddenly grew into a populist giant (maybe he ate a magic mushroom), vowing to use greater regulation to bring the evil Wall Street in line.
There is only one problem: John McCain's long history of opposing federal regulations, and specifically his support of deregulating the banking industry.
As the Washington Post reported this week:
Now, as the Bush administration scrambles to prevent the collapse of the American International Group (AIG), the nation's largest insurance company, and stabilize a tumultuous Wall Street, the Republican presidential nominee is scrambling to recast himself as a champion of regulation to end "reckless conduct, corruption and unbridled greed" on Wall Street.
"Government has a clear responsibility to act in defense of the public interest, and that's exactly what I intend to do," a fiery McCain said at a rally in Tampa yesterday. "In my administration, we're going to hold people on Wall Street responsible. And we're going to enact and enforce reforms to make sure that these outrages never happen in the first place."
McCain hopes to tap into anger among voters who are looking for someone to blame for the economic meltdown that threatens their home values, bank accounts and 401(k) plans. But his past support of congressional deregulation efforts and his arguments against "government interference" in the free market by federal, state and local officials have given Sen. Barack Obama an opening to press the advantage Democrats traditionally have in times of economic trouble.
In short, if you think the problem with the economy right now is too little regulation, you're probably inclined to vote for the Republican because, you know, they like to deregulate. If you think the current financial crisis stems from the free market run amok, you're more likely to vote Democratic.
It's true that the GOP has in recent decades co-opted populism from the Democrats, but it's cultural populism—the pointy-headed, Prius-driving, arugula-sniffing, latte-sipping elites look down their noses at salt-of-the-earth, heartland-living, truck-driving, gun-and-religion-clinging, flag-waving, real Americans. McCain's embrace of economic populism is jarring in its unbelievability.
What McCain should do is say that as a free-marketer who's seen the light, he's uniquely positioned to understand the limits of deregulation but won't go overboard like those nasty liberals. What he has done is pretend he never liked deregulation in the first place and is shocked, shocked! to find that there's greed on Wall Street. Like the Republicans haven't been the party of Gordon Gecko's Wall Street since Gordon Gecko's Wall Street.
This in the weeks after the GOP emerged as the party of aggressive feminism and teenage parenthood.
Through the looking glass indeed.
Which comes back to Jack's point about The Matrix. The McCain campaign is trying to weave a new reality long enough to win an election—it's not about fooling some of the people all of the time or all of the people some of the time, but fooling enough of the people enough of the time.
McCain spoke again today about the economy and released a couple of ads laying blame for the problems at the feet of Washington lobbyists and Barack Obama's alleged cronies.
Of course, McCain's cronies are people who lobbied for Fannie and Freddie.
Or McCain sternly says that taxpayers shouldn't get the bill for bailouts, though he supports all the bailouts thus far.
McCain's biggest problem may be that you can only jump through the looking glass so many times before it breaks. And you know what they say about the consequences of breaking a mirror.