10/21/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

7 Days: Sherrod Brown on the "September Surprise" and Hans Christian Anderson

Has this week's Wall Street "September Surprise" permanently altered the presidential contest? And now that mortgages rather than mooses are again on the agenda, let's return to a fair question -- is Palin qualified to be vice president or president?

Our panel discusses both and arrives at some conclusions:

*Presidentially, at both style and substance levels, McCain has done himself enormous and probably permanent damage. While it can't be fun to be not economically adept and in the party in power as the ship started sinking, still McCain's lurching between Howard Beale, Herbert Hoover and Ralph Nader conveys no confidence. On any given day that Obama can truthfully say that he's always warned that financial deregulation has created the context of this collapse. But McCain's blustery attacks on SEC Chairman Cox, on Wall Street "greed" and on Obama as the culpable agents here -- while alternately saying the fundamentals are "strong" -- has led even the Wall Street Journal to express disappointment ("we need steady, calm leadership, not easy, misleading answers").

McCain is digging himself into a deeper and deeper hole and his impulsive, fighter pilot instincts are providing him no way out.

2008-09-20-airamericalogo.jpg*Congressionally also, it's likely we'll look back in six months and sixty years as this being the week when the 2008 national elections became cast in stone and when a progressive majority coalesced that led to a White House, Senate and House victories that in turn led to the greatest burst of progressive legislation since 1933 and 1965. For there's really no answer to the political and policy charge that when the Republicans had their chance on peace and prosperity, they blew it - now the other team will get its chance.

*Economically, imagine if a Democratic President had proposed the bailouts now under discussion - from Bear to Freddie to AIG and sub-prime mortgages. He'd be derided as a radical socialist. Yet the federal government is about to engage in a trillion dollars of bailouts without any serious public discussion of when Washington should and should not engage in what I called "lemon socialist" when the issue was the Chrysler bailout in the 70s.

The magnitude and novelty of this overnight policy has at least two immediate implications. First, it makes it far harder for Republican free market devotees to argue that Obama is some kind of socialist or radical - not with Paulson and Bush taking the lead here. Second, it's time substantively for progressive economic superstars -- Jamie Galbraith, Bob Kuttner, Bob Reich, Jared Bernstein, Gene Sperling, Laura Tyson -- to think through the best policies in this extreme situation.

*Vice-presidentially, it's time to challenge the current orthodoxy against discussing Sarah Palin to ask a real question - is the Republican vice presidential nominee qualified to be VP or P during such a perilous time? Lehman and AIG and the big bailout now elevates the campaign above the lipstick level, at least according to David Brooks and Chuck Hagel this week. These two prominent conservatives passed their integrity test and publicly acknowledged that Sarah Palin is not ready to hold either national office.

It's time to impose a Brooks-Hagel/Hans Christian Anderson test, in the tradition of the boy who told the city that the emperor had no clothes. The Republicans have gotten far in squelching conversation about whether the empress had any credible clothes. Let's call them on it. Someone needs to call the other 48 Republican senators and ask one uncomplicated question - "do you think that Sarah Palin is qualified, is ready to be Vice President or President if necessary." This is the kind of situation John F. Kennedy meant when he said that "sometimes party expects too much." Let's ask Republican poobahs so later their voters will know whether they put country first -- like Brooks and Hagel -- or party first.

If they answer yes, that's revealing. If they answer no, that's revealing. If they refuse to answer, that's revealing. Beyond the presidential nominees, who should best manage such momentous issues of bankruptcy and war, Palin or Biden?

Listen to the whole show at


MARK GREEN: You ran for the U.S. Senate in 2006 as an economic populist in Ohio. Now it appears that the presidential race may again come down to economics and Ohio. Can you give us the name of your political guardian angel?

BROWN: Well, it's the kind of campaigns that you've run in the past -- you talk about the middle class, you talk about government being on our side instead of being on the side of the wealthiest one percent. It's not very complicated.

GREEN: It seems that the campaign has completely shifted this week -- from being about lipstick and moose to being about mortgages and jobs. Was this the pivotal week?

BROWN: I think that this week is the turning point of this election. I think we'll look back in November and years later and say that what happened on Wall Street, what happened with Lehman Brothers, AIG, Merrill Lynch, Bear Stearns was critical. All of these point to the bankruptcy of Bush-McCain ideology. The conservative era, I suppose historians will say, started in 1980, but in 2006 the voters said, no, the conservative era is over. We're still suffering from the policies, obviously, of the deregulation of our finance system, and everything that goes with it: the privatization of Medicare, the attempt at privatization of Social Security, the weakening of environmental laws, and all of the kinds of things that we fought for for the middle class for decades.

GREEN: Last night in a TV debate, Republican ex-Senator Al D'amato told me that there was plenty of blame to go around and that Democrats were complicit in the deregulation movement and in mismanaging Freddie Mac And Fannie Mae. Can that fly?

BROWN: How can they possibly say that, when Bernanke, Paulson, Cox, all of these major regulators come in front of the Banking Committee ad nauseam to continue to spout the line of free markets and deregulation, that the market can solve all issues? When in fact, John McCain has said repeatedly that he's against regulation, he wants less regulation, he wants to deregulate the financial services industry and everything else? Clearly, the chickens have come home to roost.

GREEN: Can Obama/Biden possibly lose to a guy spouting Hoover rhetoric during a financial meltdown while their party is in power?

BROWN: Well, anything's conceivable, but the reason I say that this week is a turning point is that this is the week when the media will quit dwelling on, and the voters will quit thinking so much about, lipstick and moose and McCain's attacks, personally, on Barack. I think what it's going to be all about now is issues.

GREEN: What's the chance for congressional legislation this Fall in the short term on a new stimulus regarding unemployment and infrastructure and then in the longer term for an energy package?

BROWN: I think [we have] a reasonable chance to have some serious energy legislation, to extend tax breaks for companies that invest in alternative energy, wind turbines, solar power, fuel cells. Investors need a long-term predictable tax system, so they can really be able to invest and know that the tax system won't change on them. And I'm hopeful because, if you're a Republican and you're running for election this year, you want to get as far away from Bush economic policies as possible. The best way to do that is to cast a vote for a stimulus package that helps states with Medicaid, that extends unemployment benefits, that has an alternative energy and an infrastructure component to it, that puts money directly into communities. The question then is does Bush veto it, and I don't know, but we owe it to everyone to try.

GREEN: Several conservative columnists are admitting that Palin is not remotely ready to be Vice President or President. What's your personal view, irrespective of ideology?

BROWN: I think that the Sarah Palin choice speaks volumes about the character of John McCain, that McCain's a guy who's been willing to sell his soul to become President of the United States. He changed on the Bush tax cuts, his comments on the war in Iraq, his decisions to play ball with the right wing which he used to revile. And now he clearly picked Sarah Palin, hoping that what has actually happened would happen, that the right wing would fall in love with her and that she would be a great attack dog against the Democrats and particularly against Senator Obama. He's got every wish he wanted here. But the John McCain of 2000 never would have picked someone who is singularly so unprepared to be President. That's a character question for John McCain, and frankly he should be ashamed of himself for choosing someone who isn't ready to step in and be President.

GREEN: Do you agree with the Obama-Biden campaign running ads calling McCain a liar when he lies?

BROWN: My view is that the campaign needs to focus on issues dealing with the economy, and the differences between Obama and McCain. The differences are so stark: minimum wage, trade, alternative energy, being in the pocket of the oil companies, privatization of social security. That's got to be the thrust of the campaign. But I'm okay with [those ads]; and I think you need to attack back when they hit you.

GREEN: Do you then agree with the Democrats largely ignoring Palin and just talking about the economy instead?

BROWN: Absolutely, I think that the press is going to continue to write about how she doesn't tell the truth, and how she continues, even when pointed out that something's not true, to talk about it. I think we don't even address her; let the press do what it's going to do: some are doing it well, and others are more tentative, and that's the way it often is. The whole race has got to be about McCain and Obama, and the contrast is so sharp, and it just needs to be driven home. Mark, look at the people in Ohio, the swing voters up for grabs that we're most concerned about: they're older, white voters in their 60s and 70s who are rural, suburban and urban. And what better contrast to make between McCain and Obama than that McCain wants to privatize social security, and imagine what would have happened if he and Bush would have gotten their way in 2005?

GREEN: As Ohio's junior Sentator, how will Ohio swing and why then is it so close?

BROWN: It's a near tie now [in Ohio] because of the same reasons as it is nationally. People don't know Barack well enough yet. I would add, parenthetically, that they don't know John McCain well enough yet, and that's our job. They don't know Barack well enough sort of personally; but they don't know enough about McCain's public life. I don't care about [McCain] personally, I do care about what he's done in his public life, from his ethics violations with Keating, to his switching positions and his total capture by the oil industry and by the social security privatizers and all that.


MARK GREEN: McCain's lurching from being Mr. Deregulator to a combination of Herbert Hoover on the "fundamentals" and Ralph Nader on Wall Street "greed." How can the Democrats lose to this guy?

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: I would think it would be very difficult for the Democrats to lose. In fact, we're seeing already a shift in the polls -- not that I particularly believed them last week -- in terms of Sarah Palin's governing ability. And that kind of makes perfect sense: it's as if Sarah Palin was the latest and newest guest at the party, and we're all kind of intrigued and titillated by her stories about her selling her jet on eBay, and the stories of her pregnant daughter, et cetera, et cetera...and then suddenly the house was on fire! And then we didn't really care about the new guest as much. But there's only one way left for Republicans to win the White House again, and this is to really fear-monger the American people between now and November. So although the economy is now preoccupying us to the exclusion of everything else, I just want us to be mindful of the fact that McCain still has a national security advantage, and that national security is by no means a dead issue. I'm absolutely convinced that they're going to bring it back again.

GREEN: Ron, now that there's been this September surprise, do you worry there may really now also be an October one?

RON REAGAN: Well, I'm not sure that anything is going to be able to eclipse the current economic crisis; it's just that big. But we do know that President Bush, for instance, is turning up the heat in the tribal regions of Pakistan in what seems to be a desperate last-ditch bid to get Osama bin Laden. I suppose, failing actually capturing or killing bin Laden, they'll simply release another videotape from bin Laden to try to accomplish what they did when a tape was released in 2004. You know, if Barack Obama had been saying the same things about the economy, about the bailout, flipping his position day by day as John McCain has been doing, he probably would have disqualified himself from the race by now. But the fact is that the media has to pretend that there are two viable candidacies here...where there really aren't. There's Obama and Biden, and then there's the joke, which is McCain/Palin. No serious person could any more look at McCain/Palin and say 'that seems like a reasonable alternative,' it just doesn't exist anymore.

GREEN: What about when the GOP says that the Democrats are nearly as much to blame for the economic mess as the Republicans?

REAGAN: Well, to some extent that's true; I mean, both Democrats and Republicans have certainly been in bed with the financial institutions and their various lobbyists. But who's been running the show for the last eight years for the most part? And who's the big deregulator here of the two candidates? Is it Barack Obama, who has consistently been speaking in favor of more regulation and tighter regulation of financial institutions? Or is it John McCain, who has been a deregulator for decades now?

GREEN: So far the "Palin Bump" of 3-5 points has been completely erased by the "economic bump" -- but what might be the consequence down-ticket in all those close Senate and House races that will determine whether the Democrats reach close to 60 Senate seats and 250 House seats, which in turn may equal a progressive moment equalling 1965? Could that be the long-term consequence of this week?

HUFFINGTON: Oh, absolutely, because as you know, Mark, the Congressional and Senate numbers were closing, and now I think it's going to be wide open again. Because it's not just the events themselves, it's also John McCain's response to the events. He really seems out to lunch, and in a way that is hard to miss. You know, when he was in Michigan, reading those Ralph Nader remarks about the workers, it was so clear that they were not his remarks. It was just kind of embarrassing! He was reading platitudes, and he was just reading them! He was so disconnected from what he was reading, that if he just bothered to watch himself, he would know that he could to do better.