Monday, September 22, 2008

Hot Marbles

I was a surgeon, once. When things got really serious in the operating room, facing a difficult dissection through dangerous territory for example, I got pretty quiet. Generally, I liked talking, joking, teasing in the OR. Music was good, too. But when in that (thankfully) rare situation of impending disaster, it was about focus and silence, except for words necessary to the task at hand. Music was turned off, extraneous conversation ceased at my request.

I've seen some surgeons get all panicky and throw instruments, yell and fire off blame like cannons, indiscriminate and wild. It doesn't help. In fact, it worries the hell out of the entire crew, gets them off their game.

In that context, it's interesting to compare the reactions of John McCain and Barack Obama as the banking industry crumbled before our eyes. It's predictive, I predict, of what their respective presidencies would look like. Couldn't be more different.

First thing out of McPOW's reddening face was the threat to fire Christopher Cox, the head of the SEC. (A couple of times he referred to it as the FEC, the federal elections commmission. Far be it from me to go all Freudian.) Funny, really. For one thing, the president can't fire the head of the SEC. For another, criticizing the man for failing to regulate after passing all the deregulatory legislation is like yelling at your plumber for poor work, after hiding his tools.

Next, while his campaign was accusing Obama of politicizing the crisis, McCain got up and said: "We're heard a lot of words from Sen. Obama over the course of this campaign, but maybe, just this once, he could spare us the lectures and admit to his own poor judgment in contributing to these problems," McCain said. "The crisis on Wall Street started in the Washington culture of lobbying and influence peddling, and he was right square in the middle of it." Politicizing much?

Well, you gotta admire his balls (okay, that's a really scary thought.) In Congress for decades, leading the fight against deregulation, hiring bank lobbyists and those of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae by the bagfull, tainted by the Savings and Loan debacle, Mad Mac manages to suggest that it's Obama (whom he previously criticized for not being in Washington enough) who's at fault. This, from the man whose campaign manager is as deep in it as it gets. That's straight talk only in Wonderland.

So let's recap: John McCain's response to the Wall Street crisis was first to pop off and want to fire someone. Someone whom he can't actually fire, and who had not much to do with the failures; and then to attack Barack Obama in a most pot-calls-pottery-black (no offense) sort of way. Fire, ready, aim. Oh, and he abruptly changed his life-long mantra of deregulation and pretended he'd always been the opposite. Spinning. And spinning.

By contrast, Barack Obama got together with a collection of economic heavyweights, from across the spectrum: a former Fed chair, two or three Treasury secretaries, couple of other guys. He made no from-the-hip pronouncements. He laid out a list of priorities.

I look at it as a window. Before the recent privacy rules, OR doors used to have windows, too. In one, I see a guy screaming at the nurses, stamping his feet, and tossing clamps on the floor. Overheated, losing his marbles. In another, there's a surgeon calling for calm, collecting his thoughts, and concentrating on the job at hand. Who you gonna open your belly to; in whose hands trust your life?

[Update: even that lefty George Will agrees.]


  1. It's clear that Obama is a much more serious person than McCain.

    But I still have to note that McCain, although hysterical, is substantially correct: Obama and the Democratic party share a considerable amount of the fault for this crisis.

    To carry your analogy a little farther, I'm much less impressed by a surgeon who remains calm in an emergency when he himself is at fault for the problem, even if only by a sin of omission.

    Suppose, for example, that an internist has completely and obviously blown a diagnosis and is recommending a course of treatment you know will harm the patient. Even if you cannot successfully override the internist's treatment, you still have at least a duty to object to the treatment, and do your best and use all the customary procedures in place to ensure the best course of treatment.

    If you fail to do so, or worse yet if you actively support the faulty diagnosis, your calm demeanor when you're facing the inevitable emergency is much less impressive.

    Deregulation is precisely the sort of issue where a minority party can exercise considerable power, both officially by blocking deregulation legislation with filibusters and other parlimentary maneouvers, and politically by getting on the right side before it becomes a catastrophe and using the consequences to undermine the opposition.

    The Democratic party has done neither. Whispering "er... maybe this isn't such a good idea, but if you insist I'll concur," just doesn't cut the mustard when the appropriate response is, "What, are you crazy? Even an idiot with a Wikipedia MD could see you're going to kill the patient!"

  2. BB: I don't necessarily disagree, although it's a little hard to sell Obama as at fault specifically, since he wasn't there in the era of deregulation. Nor am I aware of how those votes went down numerically. Were they filibuster-proof at the time? In any case, you're right that in general the Democrats have been pretty pathetic in using filibuster when they were in the minority, and in responding to many threats thereof, now. It's a good example of hypocrisy. Remember when the R's were in the majority and screamed bloody murder during those few time the D's did filibuster? It'd be laughable if it weren't so damned disgusting.

  3. Not spinning. Lying.

    On temperament, Mark Halperin, Jonathan Alter and Eleanor Clift all agreed: Game. Set. Match. Obama.

    Alexandra Starr analyzes an Obama presidency through the lens of his academic teaching style and judges him: "ruthless pragmatist".

    The Well Tempered Obama is a far sight safer than an Erratic Hyper Fearful McCain.

  4. Annie: even George Will agrees. But the voters? That's a different story. The ones that will swing the election aren't reading, or watching. Which is what scares me, for the election and the future -- if there is one.

  5. Not watching or reading. Yes, that's what is scary and infuriating about this election. People have their minds made up and don't need to be confused with facts or analysis.

    On a side note, did you catch the McCain article which was published recently in which this is found:

    McCain wrote, "Opening up the health insurance market to more vigorous nationwide competition, as we have done over the last decade in banking, would provide more choices of innovative products less burdened by the worst excesses of state-based regulation."

    source: Kaiser Health08

  6. As for filibustering the deregulation, I believe I read within the past few days (I forget where) that it had a veto proof majority, so it couldn't have been filibustered.

  7. Perhaps the real question " are these the best four people that America has to offer?

    McCain, a hot head who has offended many on both sides of the aisle and who characterizes the fundamentals of our economy as "stable" as the stock market tanks

    Obama, a thoughtful scholar when the teleprompter is working wants to be the leader of the country his pastor of 20 years hates. A potential commander in chief, who doesn't have time to meet with our Generals in Iraq, but is willing to meet with the primary supplier of IED materials with no preset conditions.

    Biden, a career politician, proven plagerist, overstater of his standing in law school and who by his own admission is not as qualified as Hillary

    Palin, female, young, articulate and in the right place at the right time. Gender not proven success was her draw. had Kaye Baily Hutchinson not been a Texan, she would have had the nod.

    I fear that our country is in for hard times no matter whogets elected-The Dems will control both houses-our elected officials do not do the work of the people, they do the work of their party.

    Sid you may find this quote from a retired physician friend of mine' "I will quite medicine when applications to the medical staff are required to be printed in Urdu"


  8. tom: I suppose we agree on a few things, but we disagree on much. It's when Obama is NOT at the teleprompter that he's most impressive, when it's clear that he thinks deeply and broadly about matters. When McCain goes off script, he's nothing but scary. When he is on script, he seems to forget what was written for him by the next day. It's also the case that Obama writes his own speeches.

    Biden made a few mistakes along the way, all right. I happen to think he makes sense in pretty much everything he says nowadays. The fact that he has a non-bloated view of himself is hardly a disqualification.

    Palin is simply appalling as a choice for veep. She may be bright (hard to say, since she's only allowed to say what's written for her; and we'll chalk five colleges in six years up to restless desire to see Hawaii and Idaho.) But to have as a veep candidate someone whose handlers keep her away from real press conferences (unprecedented!) and who required close management of the debate rules so as not to expose her to followup questions, is an embarrassment, and says much more about McCain than it does about her. Politics, pure and simple. And, given the level of discourse that passes for thought in our politics, brilliant. But cynical beyond anything I've seen, and I'm pretty old and beaten down.

    Your doctor friend sounds like a great guy. Guess we know who he's voting for.

  9. I like the surgical analogy. :)

    Sorry too tired to contribute much now.

    Plus you disagree anyway. :)

  10. Well written article.


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