What the Last Twenty-Four Hours Have Told Us:
What the Next Twenty-Four Hours Will Tell
Reporters and commentators on television are still scratching their heads over McCain’s move yesterday to suspend his campaign. But McCain is a true Washington insider with friends on both sides of the aisle and in the halls of K Street (where the lobbyists have their offices.) If he was willing to give up the opportunity for what is known in the business as “free TV”—meaning the debate offered him precious time on television he didn’t have to pay for—we can be sure his sources are telling him the potential for economic meltdown right now is very real. One of the reporters covering his campaign, Carl Cameron of Fox news, indicated last night that McCain now believes that if the bailout package (now called a "rescue" package) does not appear to be on track by Thursday night (that’s tonight), when the markets open Friday morning there will chaos. And if the stock market is tanking, McCain did not want to be seen debating political views in Oxford, Mississippi, while Americans were sitting at home in shock, wondering what was going to happen to their savings.
There are other clues we’re facing more than the average trouble ahead. President Bush is a lame duck with only a few months left in office. There are no political reasons he has to do anything. He’s a man who has given very few oval office speeches to the American people and his discomfort giving them is palpable. (Last night he was even doing something with his hands on the podium that was making a noise on the microphone, a nervous tic that made me nervous watching him.) What would persuade him to make such a speech now, using alarming phrases such as these:
“Without immediate action by Congress, America could slip into a financial panic and a distressing scenario would unfold.” And: “We’re in the midst of a serious financial crisis. Our entire economy is in danger.”
Danger, crisis, panic, distressing. I have not heard a president use these words in my lifetime and believe me, since they know that financial markets across the world are listening to every word they say, presidents do not idly use these words. Watching the president last night, and seeing McCain’s action of yesterday, I can see that they are worried. Not a good sign.
Another clue. I opened my paper this morning and read that a Chevy dealer, headquartered in Florida, with 13 dealerships nationwide, just closed its doors. All its doors. Everywhere. Bill Heard Enterprises, according to the report in the Orlando Sentinel, is one of the top-selling Chevrolet dealerships in the nation, with 2007 revenue of $2.13 billion. That’s billion, with a “b.” And all the dealerships just closed down and sent almost three thousand employees home. There may be other reasons for this, but the company included “the crisis in the banking and financing sectors” as one of the factors in the shutdown. What it means is that credit is so tight right now, or so uncertain, dealers are having trouble getting the financing they need to bring in new cars, not to mention getting the financing customers need to buy them. That’s impossibly tight credit.
Taken all together these things I’ve mentioned are just tea leaves at the bottom of a cup. But if you’ve lived long enough I think you can make a few assumptions from the clues:
Washington isn’t sure what to do: but leaders know that something has to be done and done quickly.
Savvy Washington insider John McCain isn’t sure what to do, but he knows he has to try to help accomplish something, or he’ll look like a very clueless candidate for president. Senator Obama clearly doesn’t have McCain’s sources: but even he has now decided to return to Washington.
Businesses like car dealerships don’t know what to do; but we know that in recent years they'd sell a car to anyone. When dealerships are having trouble finding the capitol out there to do that, it is a time when we can fairly use the overused word “crisis” and get away with it.
Watch what happens between now and 8:00 PM Friday when the presidential debate is scheduled to take place. If the presidential candidates don’t go to Oxford, Mississippi, big things will be just around the corner: and those things are going to be big, bad, bears.