In the midst of declaring the present economic troubles as comparable to the Great Depression, NBC's Today interviewed both John McCain and Joe Biden on Tuesday morning. Matt Lauer pressed against McCain's recent line that the economic fundamentals are strong: "But fundamentally speaking, isn't there something wrong with the fundamentals, right now, that's causing these nightmares that we're seeing?" Meredith Vieira asked Biden a tax question from the right: "You and Senator Obama are calling for tax increases on the wealthy and there are many economists who say that, that would hurt the economy even more." Biden objected as if the world never met a free-market economist: "I don't know any economist who is saying that." Vieira also asked why the Democrats aren't much further ahead with this gloomy economic outlook.
After the show's introductory sequence, Lauer declared himself the paperboy for a moment, relaying the New York newspaper headlines including: "The Daily News likes shorter and snappier. They simply say: ‘Shock Market.' They're calling this the biggest shakeup in financial markets since The Great Depression." Did they already forget "Black Monday" from October 1987?
A few minutes later, NBC turned to reporter Andrea Mitchell for a summary of the current political state of play, and she included a freebie clip of the latest Obama ad mocking McCain for saying the fundamentals are strong. She stressed: "Traditionally, voters turn to Democrats on pocketbook issues, but so far not this year." That's a weird sentence just two years after America favored twelve years of Republican majorities in the House and (for most of that time) the Senate. It's also weird if you remember the Carter administration's misery index.
Matt Lauer interviewed John McCain, and like the other networks, questioned how McCain could say the economic fundamentals are strong, and also say the economy's in crisis. McCain said the fundamentals were the American worker, to which Lauer replied:
It sounds like a populist tone you're taking on here. "Workers are great," obviously you want them to vote for you. "It's all the problem of the fat cats." But fundamentally speaking isn't there something wrong with the fundamentals, right now, that's causing these nightmares that we're seeing?
McCain blamed the problem squarely on Washington, for an outmoded regulatory system from the 1930s. Lauer also asked another question about McCain's policy consistency:
You've always been for less regulation. In fact you told the Wall Street Journal, back in March, quote, "I'm always for less regulation but I'm aware of the view that there is a need for government oversight. But I am fundamentally a de-regulator." Recently though, when we start to hear you say things like, "we gotta crack down on the fat cats and the greed on Wall Street," it makes some people think you're now changing your views, you want more regulation. Set the record straight for me.
That's a reasonable question, politely phrased. McCain then sounded less than libertarian, referring to himself as a Teddy Roosevelt Republican: "Teddy Roosevelt believed that we needed a government that can function, an economy can function without government interference, but he also said, ‘Unfettered capitalism can breed corruption.' We're seeing Teddy Roosevelt's words come true."
If Lauer were asking questions from the right, he would ask how the current situation, with failing government-sponsored enterprises like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are an illustration of "unfettered capitalism," but Lauer didn't drag out Democratic talking points and suggest this was all the fault of Bush or Republicans. NBC also didn't use Republican talking points about reforms being blocked by Democratic overseers like Chris Dodd and Barney Frank.
Vieira interviewed Biden. She asked several neutral questions about whether he favored an AIG bailout, then asked this:
VIEIRA: Meanwhile, Senator, you and Senator Obama are calling for tax increases on the wealthy and there are many economists who say that, that would hurt the economy even more. So what specifically --
BIDEN: I don't know any economist who is saying that.
VIEIRA: There are, been, economists say-
VIEIRA: What, specifically would your tax plan do to boost the economy?
BIDEN: Our tax plan would, would take that tax cut of another $130 billion that John wants to give to people making over $250,000 next year, not let it go forward and give it to the middle class. The very people who desperately need it to stay in their homes, to buy food, to take care of the gas that they're, to fill up their tank. To be able to go out and buy a toaster, to employ people. We would also invest $70 billion in infrastructure. New bridges, roads, airports, ports, which have serious impact on employment. Hire another million people making $50,000 a year. Give some help to the middle class here. The middle-, you haven't heard the phrase middle-class part the lips of our opponents. You haven't heard the President even use the word, middle class. [?]
VIEIRA: You know, Senator --
BIDEN: And tell me how the wealthy are gonna get us out of this with an additional tax cut?
Like Diane Sawyer on ABC, Vieira pulled out the Frustrated Democrat line of questioning, asking why the Obama-Biden ticket isn't much further ahead. Biden said it was those "scurrilous ads" from the McCain camp:
VIEIRA: Senator we've had eight years of Republicans in the White House, now we have an economic crisis. You would think that the Democrats would be, people would be rushing over to the Democrats. But if you look at the Gallup poll before the conventions, Obama campaign had a 16 point lead over the McCain campaign on economic issues, that has just dropped to three points in the past week Why do you think that is?
BIDEN: That will be back up to 16 points now that people are starting to focus again. It's because they had a great convention. It's because they misled people and said we're gonna raise taxes on middle-class people, which every econometric model, everyone acknowledges is not true. It's because of the scurrilous ads they've been running against Barack Obama that are just simply not true.