Fear Works

There’s nothing like fear and more fear to prompt panic, and there’s nothing like panic to steer people the way you want them to go.

Every day, online, on TV and in your local newspaper, it’s all bad news about the economy all the time.

The “experts” can’t agree on the problem, other than loosely telling us the credit markets are frozen. Was it the Republican push for deregulation that was to blame? Or the Democrats’ insistence on handing out mortgages to low-income voters who couldn’t possibly pay them back? Was it Barney Frank’s “sweetheart” arrangement with his boyfriend at Fannie Mae? Or Chris Cox’s loose administration at the SEC? Or some or all of the above? We just don’t know, and probably never will.

Meanwhile, John McCain, who is actually on-the-record as having tried to deal with the mess at Fannie Mae, is plummeting in the polls, along with his fellow Republicans. Barack Obama, who is on-the-record as preventing accountability at Fannie Mae, is on an increasingly fast track into the White House, with sizable Democratic majorities in the House and Senate likely to be at his command. Change, indeed.

Like many Americans, I’m so cynical about the political process and much of the media that I fully expect sunshine to rain down from the headlines and Wall Street within a day or two after Obama’s electoral coronation. Suddenly the media will discover “a new sense of optimism in America” with the Democratic takeover of the executive and legislative branches, and all those intangibles in the market will miraculously fall in line. Let the good times roll.

Too conspiratorial? How about the story on the front page of the New York Times, scarcely a bastion of the black helicopter crowd, on Tuesday (Oct. 8) with the headline, “Forget Logic; Fear Appears to Have Edge”?

Writes the reporter, “Anybody searching for cause-and-effect logic in the daily gyrations of the market will be disappointed — even if the overarching problem of a crisis of confidence in the global economy is now becoming clear. Instead, the market has become a case study in the psychology of crowds, many experts say.”

No kidding. The 24/7 media fan the flames higher and higher, tossing around phrases like “financial meltdown” and “Great Depression” like so many leaves in the wind. The world, not just the United States, certainly faces a very serious and historic financial situation, but how about a little more reasoned discussion and a little less rush to daylight?

How about some leadership, too? No Reagans or FDRs in the current political crowd, that’s for sure.

McCain and his GOP comrades may be getting unfairly punished in the polls, but the Republican standard bearer has scarcely shown the kind of leadership the country needs at a time like this. Obama, before he nailed down his party’s nomination and had to get wonkish about the issues, was a pretty inspirational fellow. All kidding aside about The One, where are those flights of rhetoric now that John Q. Citizen could really use them?

President Bush finally tried to reassure the public earlier this week, but he couldn’t even make it onto most front pages. His capital is spent, and he knows it. He’s just marking time until the new guy’s moving fan shows up.

The media certainly aren’t going to help (Fox included) because bad news sells. Look at how every whispering breeze is now the next Hurricane Katrina on the cable networks.  Besides, too much of the media are in the tank for Obama anyway, and they know a bad economy is good for their guy.

Given the gloom that has settled over most Americans these days, someone who came forward with a positive reassuring message repeated firmly over and over again might be the first successful write-in candidate for president in U.S. history. Any takers out there? Look how Sarah Palin, love her or leave her, is firing up the troops on both sides. Her message  is, we’re Americans, and don’t you forget it. And, oh yeah, keep your faith in your bank, and pay your bills.

So fear not. You can count on continuing economic bad news for about another four weeks, then, as Sam Cooke put it, a change is gonna come.