What the candidates should have said

[Welcome Instapunditeers.]

I think both candidates failed miserably at the debate. They tried to ignore the elephant in the room — the crashing economy — and deflect the questions with standard bullet points gleaned from months of focus groups.

When 60% of Americans believe we’re about to enter a depression; when they’ve seen the value of their self-directed 401-Ks and IRAs drop by one-third or more in the past couple of weeks — it’s time to throw out the the 3×5 cards and talking points. It’s time to look into the camera and say:

The economic crises we’re experiencing changes everything about this election.

Over the past year, I’ve laid out many great ideas related to healthcare and energy and other critical issues. They all are of great importance to the long range well-being of the citizens of this country.

But there are a lot of you out there tonight who are afraid that you’re about to lose everything you own: that the country is about to enter another Great Depression.

I can promise you this. No matter which one of us you elect, that’s not going to happen.

I’d like to tell you that voting for me will be the answer to the concern you have tonight.

My opponent would like to tell you that voting for him will be the answer to the concern you have tonight.

But the fact is, neither one of us is the answer. The fact is, we’re both the answer.

Because we’ve got to work together to overcome the lack of confidence you have in government, in the financial system, in big business, in the news media.

We and our parties and business leaders and those who work for government institutions and those who are supposed to be the ones who keep us informed — we’ve all got to work together to help restore your confidence in all the institutions that have failed you because of their greed and sloppiness and mis-judgement and mis-management and fear and ineptitude and complacency.

Most importantly: You are the answer. All of you. Those who play by the rules. Who work and study and serve.

Those of you who work on an assembly line or at a small business or who manage large corporations.

This is up to you. You can do something about it by continuing to believe in yourselves and in the fundamental goodness of other people like you here in America and throughout the world.

It’s time to get over your fear.

It’s time to start believing again.

It’s time to start believing in yourself and in your friends and in your communities.

It’s time to support each other like you do after a flood or tornado or big blizzard.

It will take a long time for you to start believing again in government or Wall Street or corporate CEOs.

They — we — have let you down.

But you’ve got to start believing in yourself.

I believe in you. My opponent believes in you.

You are what makes me believe in a future that is filled with hope, not fear.

And no matter which one of us is elected President, that fact will remain.

Recommended reading: The first provides historical context related to the Great Depression vs. today and the second, an explanation of how panic (negative feedback loop) works in financial markets:

As Dire as the Times May Seem, History Isn’t About to Repeat Itself (Wall Street Journal)

Forget Logic; Fear Appears to Have Edge (The New York Times)

In Praise of Bernanke (The New York Times)

  • I totally agree. The debate last night from your neck of the woods proved to confuse more people about the election. It definitely didn’t set anything straight in my mind as “Who should YOU vote for?!” – right now I don’t feel comfortable about either candidate, both are speaking Washington politics as usual.


  • Wow, that would have been awesome. NOW I’m depressed that no one said that.

  • Rex, are you available for the cabinet position that Bredesen denies he’s gunning for but that will never be offered to him?

  • Hudge

    The ghost of Andy Shepherd and Jed Bartlet hath spaken. I wondered if I was the only one bored and disappointed with the debate.

  • W

    I’m totally writing you in.

  • SGT Ted

    This was what I could not put my finger on listening to the debates last night. I am SOO tired of focus group parrots. They’ve even taken over the straight talk express. McCain needs to take a lesson from Ms Palin and speak from the heart.

  • ken magalnik

    A small quibble, with the very end. A panic is an example of a positive feedback loop, just like a bubble. A positive feedback loop, is any system in which a change cause the system to swing further in the same direction. For example, when stock prices rise further just because they are rising now, or when prices start to drop further because they have dropped some. Systems based on a positive feedback loop tend to oscillate, and that is exactly what our economy does. Look at a GDP curve for any time frame, and you will see the see saws of oscillation.
    A negative feedback loop is a system in which a change causes the system to swing in the opposite direction. Thus the most sought after stocks would be the ones that perform the worst, and the most sold ones would be the ones that perform the best. Economically, it is fairly silly, but it is the principle that we all use to keep a car going in a straight line.
    Otherwise, great inspirational speech

  • Charlie

    Now you know why senators rarely get elected president. The only active, refreshing mind in the race? The only non-senator.

  • Pink Pig

    I probably shouldn’t bother responding, but sometimes I can’t hold back.

    You have no clue about what you are asserting, and you should study a few things before you mouth off. Primarily, the Dow-Jones doesn’t even represent the stock market, much less the economy. It is simply idiotic to claim that if the financial markets tank, that is the same as the economy tanking. The markets have tanked many times prior, without any noticeable effect on the economy.

    The first thing you need to learn is that trading on the stock market is secondary trading — the companies who originally issued the stock have little interest (apart from the obscene options offered to their executives) in the current market price, because they got all the money that they will ever get when they issued the stock in the first place. The second thing you need to learn is that the management of companies (executives) is constantly at war with the stockholders, because whatever the stockholders get detracts from what the management will get. Might you see a pattern in all this? The third thing you need to learn is that when an executive exercises a stock option, all the original shareholders are diluted.

    I could go on, but I’ll leave it there.

  • Pink Pig, OK, let’s take the stocks portion off the table. Have you been paying attention to money markets or stable funds? Have you been tracking the dollar the past few years? Are you asserting that just because the markets have crashed before and we’ve lived it up afterward that there’s NOTHING really going on right now? That is beyond absurd, and a logical fallacy. I could go on, but I’ll leave it there. Enjoy weathering the storm in your bunker.

    Rex, this is indeed what someone should have said. Unfortunately there’s a significant portion of the voting public who would have seen such comments as weak or pandering, I think. Politics are more about the party now, and “crushing the competition” has become the mantra of divisiveness plaguing our country. Until WE as a populace understand that disagreements are healthy, natural and acceptable (in fact, they are what helped make our country strong) and quit demonizing the “other guy” we’re never going to see the kind of solidarity needed to rise above this mess.

    Instead, you’ll see more political quagmire, bickering, inaction and pathetic excuses like “we’ll be fine, the markets are only secondary indicators.” Yeesh, what a mess.

  • Some Guy with an opinion

    @Pink Pig: Hmmm. @Victor Agreda Jr’s macro analysis aside, even in discussing the stock market, you have made a leap of major proportions – namely, building a case regarding corporations and the stock market that presumes companies’ equity is only in their own stock! The reality is that very large corporations who have “cash reserves” are heavily invested in equity markets as well – meaning that they care very much about that “secondary trading.” And I’ve never seen a CFO yet who wasn’t vitally concerned with the stock price, because market cap affects that intangible emotion which drives even the most technical of investors at times.

    And I’m really shocked at the black-and-white notion that executives are at war with shareholders… this is simply not at all the behavior I see in the brass at the Fortune 150 corporation where I work. In fact it’s just the opposite: they give employees stock purchase plans and options to make us want to build the company’s value (and thus their own finances). Maybe that thinly disguised class warfare stuff is what gets taught in some B-schools these days, but it doesn’t jibe with practical observation over many years in the trenches.

    The notion of share dilution is technically correct and utterly irrelevant. Paper valuations go up and down without regard to the relatively small number of shares (what some call obscenity I call free market assessment of value) issued to executives (unless there is such a massive selloff by an executive that the market is spooked – something most executives would avoid religiously).

    None of which is to say you’re wrong about your assessment of the difference between crashing equity markets and crashing economy. (Personally, I’m hard at work trying to make sure the two aren’t the same, by trying to sell as much product as I can.) This may surprise you, but even those of us who didn’t get an MBA really do understand that the stock market and the economy aren’t the same thing. But in this era of IRAs and 401Ks as our savings vehicles, many of us tend to equate the markets in which we’re invested with the economy… because as Rex said, we see those vehicles dwindle in size and that corresponds to the questions of where, or whether, our children will go to college; when, or if, we’re going to retire; and what, if any, we’re going to own when we get there. Macroeconomics goes right out the window when it’s my stuff we’re talking about; I agree with Rex that citizenship is all about deciding that safeguarding “my stuff,” while still “my stuff” (i.e., no socialism here!), is not as vital as investing “my stuff” in the nation’s success – and that’s true in humanitarianism, public service (including military service), or, in this case, equity.

    But I’m no economist, so I probably shouldn’t have bothered to respond either.