DOUBLETAKE: Strong in the fundamentals

Doubletakethe summer sensation, is back for the new fall season. Join Tribune correspondents Jim Tankersley and Jim Oliphant every day as they tackle the mysteries of the political universe and, well, breed alpacas to make a little cash on the side, because face it, this gig doesn’t pay all that great.

Jim Tankersley: Good afternoon. Once again, we are unnervingly face to face. This must stop.       

Jim Oliphant: I know. Talk about ignoring the man behind the curtain. Our mojo, such at is, derives from the fact that we never have to be accountable to each other. In a sense, it’s like a long-distance relationship.


Tankersley: You mean, like the Fed’s new marriage to AIG?

Oliphant: Yeah, suddenly Big Government is everybody’s friend. Funny how that happens.

Oliphant: Do you realize that during the Bush administration, we have had three catastrophic events (four, if you count Iraq, five, if you count Katie Couric) and with each there has been a corresponding increase in federal spending, influence and bureaucracy? That is staggering for an eight-year stretch.

Tankersley: It’s not like we’ve never been here before. Astute Doubletake readers will recall the Chrysler bailout of the late 70s/early 80s, as the New York Times’ David Leonhart notes today.

Oliphant: The Chrysler comparison is a good one because again we are protecting a company from its own bad judgment. If only the government would do that for me. I never would have bought that guitar. And then there was that Internet date. . . .

Tankersley: Which begs the question: Will George W. Bush go down as the Republican Jimmy Carter? (Which reminds me. Nice sweater you’re wearing today. Very turn-down-your-thermostat.)

It’s evening in America.


Oliphant: He’s more like the Republican FDR! (Wait, how did Ron Paul get in here?) But yeah, the Carter comparison is interesting. Bush has done his best to avoid being like Carter, though. How? By being optimistic in the face of all signs to the contrary.

Tankersley: I’m glad you brought up optimism, because I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how Ronald Reagan would handle this. Would he say, as John McCain did this week, that the fundamentals of our economy are strong? In spite of everything, is it Morning on Wall Street?

Oliphant: The Gipper? Sure, he would have had a gleam in his eye, a bounce in his step, and would tell us how America has always comes back in the face of adversity. In fact, we should see what he said on Black Monday, back in ’87. (We’ll ask the intern.) But McCain is having a bit more problem pulling it off.

Tankersley: And why do you think that is?

Oliphant: Well, McCain obviously isnt the communicator Reagan was. He also hasn’t stored up the goodwill that Reagan had. Reagan was powerful, at least initially, because he was such a strong contrast to Carter. But we are coming off eight years of a president, who some would say, who has been expecting water lilies to grow in the desert. Bush still won’t say “recession.” It reminds of Leslie Nielsen in The Naked Gun standing in front of the exploding fireworks factory. “Nothing to see here!”

Tankersley: Well, lest your rose-colored memories cause you too much pain, here’s Reagan — who I believe was portrayed in at least one Naked Gun movie, and if he wasn’t, he should have been — talking about the economy the day before Black Monday, in October 1987, per PBS News Hour:

PRESIDENT REAGAN: I think everyone is a little puzzled because I don’t know what meaning it might have–because all the business indices are up–there is nothing wrong with the economy.

Oliphant: Ah ha. That sounds suspiciously similar to “the fundamentals of the economy are strong.”

Tankersley: But there’s a downside to this, too. Doesn’t Barack Obama risk looking like a Carterian (!) pessimist with his constant harping on Bush and the state of the economy?

Oliphant: Yes. In fact, John Dickerson of Slate said this very thing the other day. That Obama risks being a downer when people want to be uplifted. And Obama already has to worry about Carterian comparisions. But McCain is seeing rough seas too. He backtracked from his fundamentally strong comment. Then his surrogate Carly Fiorina says, basically, that McCain and Palin couldn’t run a Radio Shack. (Or Obama and Biden, for that matter.)

Tankersley: I actually believe she said “manage a Sbarro.”sbarro.JPG

The engine that will restart the economy.

Oliphant: Don’t you know politics? It isn’t what you say, it’s what everyone else hears. Seriously, about Sbarro: How do you get anyone to pay four dollars for one slice of pizza? That, my friend, is an economic miracle. It’s that kind of mark-up that makes America great. Maybe the economy is fundamentally strong! 

Tankersley: You know what’s a miracle? That a woman who ran one of the giants of Silicon Valley into the ground, more or less, has any standing to say who is or is not qualified to run a company. Or the world’s most important economy.

Oliphant: Well, be relieved, because she won’t be doing it anymore. I believe the McCain campaign has booked her on a three-month Carnival cruise to Micronesia, with orders to make a stop at each island. 


“Young lady, if you do not stop bothering me, I’m going to have to call security.”

Tankersley: Maybe they can replace her on TV with the ghost of Ronald Reagan. Or Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard.

Oliphant: A hologram of Reagan. I think that would actually work. And then the hologram could run for president against Hillary in 2012. But here is the point I think we are trying to reach: When it comes to the economy: Is a president a coach, where victory is always a play away, or an honest broker? Does he tell us what we want to hear or need to hear?reagangram.JPG

Tankersley: Who? McCain? Obama? Because I think you’re seeing a fair mix of want and need from both of them.

An exploratory committee has already been formed.

Oliphant: Some would say that a president’s policies have very little to do with the economy anyway and the best thing he can do is market it–sell it–as strong no matter what. But from a credibility standpoint, it’s tough to say the economy is sound when Wall Street giants are declaring bankruptcy and the housing market has collapsed.

Tankersley: On the other hand, as Leonhart points out today, most economists seem amazed that it isn’t worse. But we digress. Here’s the real pressing issue of today: Three episodes in, how do you think the new “90210” stacks up to the original?

Oliphant: Dude, I may be wearing the sweater but you apparently are being bound and gagged. You are watching this by choice?

Tankersley: Hey — that’s my generation, pal. I tried for years in high school and college to grow Luke Perry sideburns. No dice.

Oliphant: I think they were implanted by a special effects team. I would say that Kelly is still pretty hot. (Okay, so I might have checked it out for like, a minute.)

Tankersley: Uh-huh.

Oliphant: That’s when you know you have gotten old, when you see veteran actors on TV and say “Hey, they still look pretty good!” That’s optimism you can bottle.

Tankersley: The Gipper would be proud.

Oliphant: Somewhere, I bet he still looks great. And somewhere, the economy looks that way, too.


BONUS VIDEO FOOTAGE: John McCain wins the War on Terror.