Tuesday, October 07, 2008

While Worth Watching, Obama Film missed a chance to Teach and Resorts to Gotcha Tactics.

"Those who do not learn from History are doomed to repeat it."

All week we've been subjected to sound bites of Tina Fey (oops, I mean, Sarah Palin) yammering about how "The Noow Yoork Tiiimes sayz dat Barak Obama Palled around with Terrorists a heck of a lot don't ya know" And the "Liberal Media" continues to play the sound bite despite the fact that the NYTimes article concludes that the connection between the two is not close...and that the terrorist in question has since become an activist for education AND that Barack Obama was all of 8 years old when Bill Ayers was active.

So, I can understand WHY the Obama Campaign felt obliged to make and release it's short documentary: "Keating Economics". Still, after watching it, I found myself wishing that the campaign could have aimed a little higher.

Don't get me wrong. As the financial industry collapses around our ears, and We the People are tapped to pay the bill, the ghosts of the SAVINGS AND LOAN crisis are hovering right above our shoulders. So it's great to have a reminder.

(Wikipedia has a nice refresher course in the S&L Crisis, just in case you forgot the 160 BILLION Dollars you paid back in the late 1980s. It basically boils down to a bunch of Greedy Financial Types, doing fraudulent back flips under a "Free Market" President who sent all the Federal Regulators Home for the Long Weekend. This was back in the 1980s- and here we are again- hence my resort above the overused Santayna quote.)

But "Keating Economics" does a little more than "remind" us. The movie, which feels a lot like a cross between a Frontline piece and something from Fox News, opens with John McCain being hauled before the Senate Ethics committee. In flashbacks, we learn that McCain had close personal ties to Charles Keating, one of the most infamous of the S&L bandits. We learn that McCain and several other Senators used undue influence behind closed doors to offer improper advantage to Keating.

We watch as Keating is trapped and cornered....and the documentary leads you to the emotional conclusion that we will be watching John McCain doing the Perp Walk, too.

But McCain never did the perp walk. The truth is that he was found largely innocent of wrong doing...and he went on to continue a fairly distinguished career in the U.S. Senate.

At this point the movie swerves away from it's "criminal" narrative and makes some really valid points about what happens when Government agrees to protect investors without regulating their activities...in the end, THIS is the most valid part of the film, the part the makes it worth sitting through.

I wish that the Obama campaign had used the same tricks of the trade (tight editing, good story structure, etc.) to make an easy to understand movie about why a Free Market works best with a bit of government oversight to protect the Taxpayers and the Public, rather than indulging the in the temptation to race Sarah Palin and her ilk to the bottom.

My fear is that the American people, realizing that the case against McCain is overstated for dramatic effect, will ignore the parts of the S&L story which are truly important. Our present crisis proves that we've ignored these historical lessons once to our cost (Savings and Loan, 1980s: $160b...government bailout, 2008: $700 -so far!)- let's start electing some public officers who won't continue to compound the mistake.

As it is, this campaign could feature a real debate (Ronald Reagan, George Bush and Milton Friedman vs. FDR and John Maynard Keynes)- instead it's turning into a bickering match:

"You sat too close to Bill Ayers at the board meeting!"
"Oh, yeah? Well, YOU sat too close to Charles Keating!"

Of course, that having been said- it IS true that THEY started it.

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