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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Mr. Clean?

Last weekend on Fareed Zakaria GPS, Zakaria spoke with Thomas Friedman about the Russia’s invasion of Georgia and the politics of climate change. Friedman’s latest book, Hot, Flat, and Crowded is number one on the New York Times Bestseller list this week. The interview was broken into two parts: Part One & Part Two

I stumbled upon an article, Running On Adrenaline, in the Wilmington News Journal, about Sen. Biden’s campaign activities. The article starts out discussing the entourage that follows the Vice Presidential candidate including the secret service and the media.

Now, inside the chartered Boeing 737, [the secret service] relaxed -- even cut up a little -- their hidden-by-day handguns peeking from the waistbands of their pants as they roamed the rear of the aircraft, bantering with members of the traveling press.

"This guy here is Viking," one agent said, pointing to a full-bearded television crewman, one of about 25 journalists covering Biden's every footstep for the last three weeks.

"This guy's Mr. Clean," the agent said, rattling off another nickname and pointing to the bald-headed man from CNN. "This guy's Bubba. That one back there, he's Gadget."

At a little after 10 p.m., levity was allowed.

So, who’s CNN’s Mr. Clean?

The latest Metro article by Tom Foreman is entitled: The Economy Spins ’round And ’round

Have you ever seen a 4-year-old standing at a video game that he hasn’t dropped a quarter into? He yanks the joystick left and right, and because sometimes the space ship heads his direction, he thinks he is controlling it. Financial analysts say this is a bit like the relationship between the president of the United States and the nation’s economy.

The president can’t make it perform like a trained pony. He can influence the economy, but he can’t control it.

That’s worth remembering as each candidate promises to set the economy right. Collectively, the contenders have suggested they can get Washington serious about regulating financial markets, stabilizing home prices, protecting wages, lowering your food and gas bills; the list goes on and on. And, bless their souls, they can certainly try.

The problem is, well meaning D.C. folks have tried before. After the tech bubble, after Enron, after WorldCom, after Bear Stearns; heck, after every headline-grabbing financial collapse, there are hearings, investigations, resolutions, and vows that “this will be the last time.”

Then it happens again.

Part of the problem is that some lawmakers have friends in big businesses. Friends they would rather not irritate, especially if the lawmaker might want to someday get out of the relatively low-paying business of public service, and into something more lucrative.

The economy is just too big for any one person to steer very precisely, especially with all those pesky global ties. Some folks can have a lot of impact. Let Warren Buffett or Bill Gates take a sudden interest in pie making and watch the value of apples go wild. But even that is not exactly “controlling” the economy. Part of the problem is just economic reality. Presidents have a lot of power, but short of nationalizing private companies or imposing enormously punitive taxes, they can’t do much about say, those soaring CEO salaries that drive so many of us nuts. Presidents can’t even create jobs, unless they spend a lot of your tax money to do it.

What a president can do is help create a political climate in which businesses can thrive or fail, on terms that we like as a society. Democrat or Republican, that is the challenge: To steer the economy in a positive direction while never really controlling it. | Catch Tom Foreman on CNN every Saturday at 6 p.m. on This Week in Politics for a look back at the presidential campaign trail.

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