Economics Ads

Economics: Presidential Campaign Ads

Each of the three candidates has put out an ad on the subject of economics. Let's look at them.

Sen. Obama:

Sen. Clinton:

Sen. McCain:

The Obama ad stands out for two reasons: first, it is the only one of the three in which the candidate uses a well-known speaker to carry his message for him. Clinton and McCain appear in their commercials on their own behalf; Obama is represented by Sen. Tom Daschle. This is a stylistic difference, but interesting.

Second, and more important, Obama's commercial offers neither a plan nor a hint of what a plan might entail. It identifies the problem as being 'the price of gas and groceries.' It says nothing about what a President might do about the price of gas and groceries; nor does it attempt to talk about solutions at all.

Rather, Daschle immediately changes course to, 'Obama understands the squeeze. He is rooted in the same values as you. He understands America, rural and urban alike. He will talk straight.'

Maybe he "will," but he sure isn't doing it here.

I come away impressed by one thing: Senator Obama fears he has a problem with people outside of his coalition believing that he doesn't share their values.

Sen. Clinton's ad is much better. She identifies specific underlying issues -- she points to the size of the national debt (one of her husband's genuine accomplishments was balancing the budget), and then explains that this issue is directly tied to the state of the economy. Unlike with Obama's ad, I come away knowing something specific she is proposing to do to fix the economy: reduce the national debt.

She also introduces Social Security, both to make clear that she doesn't mean to reduce the debt by cutting Social Security, and also as a pander to older voters. She is also pandering to suggest that 'we borrow money from the Chinese to buy oil from the Saudis,' which is a highly tendentious phrasing. Rather, America's economy (in spite of the concerns we have about it) remains the safest investment in the world; so many nations, including China, want to secure some of their funds by investing them here. Meanwhile, of course, Saudi Arabia is not among the top three providers of oil to the United States. If she said ' buy oil from the Mexicans' it would be a truer statement, but would hurt her with a key constituency. It's safe to sneer at the Saudis, however.

She outlines three basic proposals: 'stop spending money America doesn't have,' and good luck to any President in convincing Congress on that point; 'end $55 billion in corporate giveaways'; and, oddly, 'reduce the deficit.'

In fact, if paying down the debt is what is wanted, she would need to do more than "reduce" the deficit. She would need to eliminate it, and establish a surplus. That is reverse-Keynesian economics: normally, since FDR, Democrats have advocated deficit spending to kickstart an economy. Hillary Clinton: Supply-sider!

The McCain ad starts with an overall goal: to get the economy going so that it will 'create opportunities' and 'jobs.' He has several specific proposals: Simplify taxes; make taxes 'fairer,' whatever that means; make energy cleaner and cheaper (the photo of a wind farm suggests investment in alternative energy); to reduce healthcare costs by making it portable and affordable -- odd that neither Clinton nor Obama mentioned healthcare costs -- to make "corporate CEOs" "accountable," and to restructure mortgage debt.

On balance, simplifying taxes is a very good idea that might -- insofar as they ease the process of starting a new business -- encourage an economy that creates jobs and opportunities. Making taxes "fairer" could go either way, depending on just what he means by that. He is probably using the word as a shading towards the Fair Tax system, without actually declaring for it; which means, he probably has no intention of doing anything quite like that.

I can't say that making energy "cleaner" will do anything for the economy, in the term of a single President at least, unless he means by nuclear power. Investing in alternative energy may be a good idea -- a lot of people seem to think so -- but it also appears to have very limited capacity for addressing the concerns of the current economy.

Health care costs are a real drain on the finances of American families. On the other hand, it's not a drain on the American economy as a whole: growth in the health care sector has been one of the things carrying the economy. It's true that older families in particular are paying a lot for new medications and for treatment, as the population ages and life spans increase. On the other hand, health care is one thing it's hard to outsource -- so a lot of Americans are employed as nurses, doctors, therapists, and so forth.

The demand for health care is not likely to fall, and in fact certain to increase. While McCain's proposal could be helpful to some families, there's no reason to believe it will have any effect on the economy as a whole.

The CEO thing is just a pander. CEOs, like Saudis, are a safe target.

Mortgage debt restructuring is an idea about which I'd need to hear more. It could just represent a government buyout, in which case it's deficit spending of the type Sen. Clinton was opposing -- a traditional, Keynesian way of trying to buy your way out of a bad cycle. Strange that Clinton is to the right of the Republican on this one.

Final verdict: McCain's commercial is the clearest about his intentions as President. Several of the things he proposes are good ideas whether or not they would have an effect on the economy. Of the things he proposes, the tax problem is the only "big factor," that is, a thing that has the capacity to create major changes in the economy as a whole. Energy is second, but any gains would be delayed.

Clinton's ad also points directly at a big factor and promises to address it. In her case, it's government spending and the debt. If she can achieve major cuts in our spending, it would have a salutary effect on the nation. It's easy to doubt that she would, but again, her husband actually did balance the budget.

Obama's ad is not really about the economy at all. Instead, it is about the fact that many voters don't trust him. The ad leaves us with no information at all about what his plans might be, should he be elected.

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