Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Thursday, October 16, 2008

How Will Joe Vote?

The third and last US presidential debate last night was more riveting than the anodyne offering last week. For one thing, this as the last chance to "strut the stuff" in front of a national audience. In that sense, each candidate reverted to his "natural" style. Sen. McCain was the "attacker" and "angry"; in fact, he was so zizzed up at times, with eye brows flipping and smirk widenin, that he reminded me of The Joker in the last Batman movie, minus the lipstick (which was left at home in Wassila?). Sen. Obama, is a professor, and I have to profess that though he looked directly into the camera more convincingly, he seemed as if he was on a lecture tour. I found little to change my view of the candidates. I am bewildered how hard Sen. McCain seems to find public speaking, at least in front of cameras. Sen. Obama, for a nerdy, presidential wannabee, seems to have a better, easier style in front of the cameras.

But the man who stole the show, for good and ill, was Joe. Not Biden. But Joe Wurzelbacher, a plumber", whom Sen. Obama had met last week in Ohio, and tried to explain--at great length--his tax plan to a man who wanted to buy his business (see video).

Sen. McCain tried to talk to Joe all night, using him as the stock figure for Mr. Average America. By my reckoning, Sen. McCain mentioned "Joe" more times (15 times, check the transcript, if you like) than he mentioned "Senator Obama". It appeared from the real time reactions that independent voters did not take to Joe, as the lines dipped at mention of his name and plight. My own take was that this seemed like too much talking to one specific person than addressing the problems facing the whole nation. They say all politics is local, but on national TV it has to be national.

The immediate reaction of the CNN pundits was that Sen. McCain won the first 30 minutes, but then got distracted by questions about negative aspects of the campaign that have been higher over the past two weeks. He seemed so upset about Congressman Lewis' comments, but I wonder why he would expect his opponent to deal with an unprompted comment from another politician. Come on, John, go to the Congressman's office and sort it out with him face-to-face: fight your own fight, soldier. True, Sen. McCain seemed better able to defend economic policies this time around. I loved his line "Yes. Sen. Obama, I am not President Bush. If you wanted to run against President Bush, you should have run four years ago. I'm going to give a new direction to this economy in this country." It was a well-aimed put down, and so far the best effort to put distance with what Sen. Obama calls eight years of failed policies.

After the distraction of negativism, Sen. McCain seemed to have his foot firmly on the pettiness pedal--already there with his concentration on "earmarks" and "pork barrel", which are important in principle but such a small part of the whole picture.

Sen. Obama got going better when he had a chance to counter attack. He seemed to deal will the "issue" of Bill Ayers (former Weatherman, responsible for bomb attacks on some US public buildings), and "palling around with terrorists":

"Mr. Ayers has become the centerpiece of Sen. McCain's campaign over the last two or three weeks. This has been their primary focus. So let's get the record straight. Bill Ayers is a professor of education in Chicago.

Forty years ago, when I was 8 years old, he engaged in despicable acts with a radical domestic group. I have roundly condemned those acts. Ten years ago he served and I served on a school reform board that was funded by one of Ronald Reagan's former ambassadors and close friends, Mr. Annenberg.

Other members on that board were the presidents of the University of Illinois, the president of Northwestern University, who happens to be a Republican, the president of The Chicago Tribune, a Republican- leaning newspaper.

Mr. Ayers is not involved in my campaign. He has never been involved in this campaign. And he will not advise me in the White House. So that's Mr. Ayers."

If anyone was listening, there was enough "mainstreaming" of Ayers to make doubters at least wonder what the fuss was all about.

Sen. Obama came stronger from midway and was certainly better at the finish.

"We need fundamental change in this country, and that's what I'd like to bring.

You know, over the last 20 months, you've invited me into your homes. You've shared your stories with me. And you've confirmed once again the fundamental decency and generosity of the American people.

And that's why I'm sure that our brighter days are still ahead.

But it's not going to be easy. It's not going to be quick. It is going to be requiring all of us -- Democrats, Republicans, independents -- to come together and to renew a spirit of sacrifice and service and responsibility.

I'm absolutely convinced we can do it. I would ask for your vote, and I promise you that if you give me the extraordinary honor of serving as your president, I will work every single day, tirelessly, on your behalf and on the behalf of the future of our children."

Well, American voters seem to have economic issues front and centre in their concerns. There is more real economic gloom waiting out there, not just the lowering of the stock market indices, but in the form of job losses and firm closures. It's interesting to look at the so-called "misery index" (see report and graph), which is the unemployment rate. Over the period since the early 1980s, you see that under President Reagan, the rate rose from 7.5% (January 1981) to a peak of 10.8% (1982) to finish his term at 5.3% (December 1988). President Bush "The First" presided over a rise in the rate to 7.5% (December 1992). Under President Clinton misery was almost eradicated as the rate declined sharply to 3.9% by the end of his second term (December 2000). But, under President Bush "The Second", misery has again found company with the rate rising toward 7.4% (August 2008). So, many Americans going to the polls may feel that they have lived through not just eight years of failed policies but the better part three decades, when Republicans were in the White House.

The talk of the current period being worse than the Great Depression resonates more with people if they feel that work is hard to get, and is made worse if basic elements like housing seem under real threat. Loss of wealth through pensions and investments is an added whammy. So, we will soon see if the belief that Democrats are better at reducing misery will strike the ears of those voters.

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