The economy and the election
It’s an ill wind 不测风云Oct 9th 2008 | ABINGTON From The Economist print edition
As the economy sags, Barack Obama’s electoral prospects soar
IN A small town in Pennsylvania, where the liquor store is called “Beer World”, the mini-golf course has a Statue of Liberty hole and a sign boasts that this is the “21st best town in the US”, Barack Obama is making a speech. The latest unemployment statistics have just been released, and they are grim. It is the day after the vice-presidential debate, during which Sarah Palin accused the Democrats of wanting to impose job-killing tax hikes on business.
在宾夕法尼亚州的一个小镇上，有家名叫 “啤酒世界” 的酒店。店里的迷你高尔夫球场上有孔“自由女神”洞，还有个标牌自誉是 “21世纪美国最好的小镇” 。奥巴马正在该店发表演说。最新出炉的失业率统计数字令人担忧。在此前一天的副总统候选人辩论会上，萨拉•佩林指责民主党人企图强行增加企业税，导致失业。
“Just since January, we’ve lost more than 750,000 jobs across America, 7,000 in Pennsylvania alone,” says Mr Obama. “So when Senator [John] McCain and his running-mate talk about job-killing, that’s something they know a thing or two about. Because the policies they’re supporting are killing jobs every single day.”
On the page, Mr Obama’s speeches can seem long-winded. But when he reels off each rhythmic sentence before an adoring crowd, the effect is almost musical. Did Mr McCain once mention that the fundamentals of the economy were sound? “Well, Abington,” says Mr Obama, “where I come from, there’s nothing more fundamental than having the sense of meaning and purpose that comes with showing up at work in the morning. There’s nothing more fundamental than being able to put your kids through college, or having health care when you get sick…There’s nothing more fundamental than a good-paying job.”
看起来，奥巴马的讲话似乎过于长篇大论了些。但他侃侃而谈的每一个句子带着排比的韵律，对赞赏他的听众来说好似音乐一般。嗯，麦凯恩是否再次提到，经济根 基仍然是坚固的？ “阿宾顿的民众们”，奥巴马先生说， “以我的出身体验，没有什么比早起上班更基本了；没有什么比能够供您的孩子读完大学，或者您生病时有医疗保更基本了……没有什么比一份好薪水更基 本了”。
Bad news is good news when you are the challenger, and the news has been awful of late. Stockmarkets are tumbling, taking a big chunk of voters’ pensions with them. No one knows if the latest interest-rate cut or the $700 billion rescue package Congress approved recently will stop the panic. Unemployment is still only 6.1%, but everyone expects it to rise. The American economy is probably already in recession, and voters feel it is. House prices are slumping, and homeowners are losing their homes. A 90-year-old woman about to be evicted in Ohio shot herself last week. (She survived, and the mortgage firm forgave her debt.)
作为挑战的一方，坏消息成了好机会。近来的新闻跟不上变幻，股票市场风起云涌，卷走了大把选民们的养老金。无人能预测最新的降息或国会最近批准的7千亿美 元的救世计划是否阻止得了惊慌。失业率虽然只有6.1 ％ ，但是人人都预感它会上升。美国经济可能已经陷入了衰退，选民们已经感同身受。房价还在下跌，物主们正失去自己的家园。上周，俄亥俄州一名90岁的妇女因 为即将被赶出家门而开枪自杀。（她活了下来，贷款公司取消了她的债务。）
Few voters understand why the economy is ailing, but many blame President George Bush. Mr Obama, as the candidate whose party does not control the White House, is the default choice of the disgruntled. This gives him a hefty advantage in the polls, which show him leading Mr McCain by five points nationwide and by significant margins in most swing states. He has more money to press his message home, too. A cash-strapped Mr McCain gave up running ads in Michigan the day Mr Obama spoke there last week. Barring a sudden, unlikely, uplift in the national mood, Mr Obama’s prospects look peachy.
Voters anxious for change are warming to his message. And he has a gift for wrapping centre-left (by American standards) policies in language that has wide appeal. He often says, for example, that he will cut taxes for 95% of Americans. That is an attractive promise. The “cut taxes” bit appeals to conservatives, while the “95%” part appeals to liberals and moderates.
选民急切求变的心态是奥巴马政治口号的温床。对（按美国标准）中立及偏左的选民，他送出了用语言包装且讨好众人的政策礼品。例如，他常许诺诱人地要为95%的美国人减税。“减税”之说让保守派听了悦耳，同时，“ 95% ”也让自由派和温和派听了舒心。
Fact-checkers quibble that, according to his written plans, he really means 95% of families with children, not 95% of Americans. But his real sleight-of-hand is to count handouts administered through the tax code as “tax cuts”. You might think that a tax cut means keeping more of what you earn. The way Mr Obama uses the phrase, however, it can also mean being given a chunk of money that someone else has earned. That is how he is able to offer “tax cuts” to “95% of Americans” when about a third of American households already pay no federal income tax.
追究事实者则反讥说，根据奥巴马的书面计划，他的95％指的是有孩子的家庭，而不是95%的美国人。另外，其花枪之下的实质是把根据税收法给出的优惠也算作“减税” 。你或许以为，“减税”表示留下更多自己的收入。但按照奥巴马对该短语运用，它还意味着你从别人的收入中拿走一份。只有这样奥巴马才能为“95%的美国人” “减税”。事实上，大约三分之一的美国家庭已经不再缴纳联邦收入税了。
Such re-packaging is effective. “I’m for McCain,” says Matthew Julian, a biology student who has just heard Mr Obama speak in Michigan. “But I liked [what Mr Obama said]. He’s not going to tax the middle class. I thought he would. You know, I might change my mind and vote for Obama.”
此等重新包装很有效果。 “我支持麦凯恩”，生物学生马修•朱利安说。他刚在密歇根听过奥巴马演说。 “但我喜欢[奥巴马议员所说的] 不会对中产阶级加税的话。我认为他能做到。也许我会改变主张，投票给奥巴马”。
The way Mr Obama describes his opponent’s tax plans is also deft. Mr McCain plans to reduce the corporate tax rate. That sounds boring. So Mr Obama describes it as a “$4 billion tax break for big oil companies”. He is not lying. Big oil firms would indeed benefit from a lower corporate tax rate. But he makes it sound as if Mr McCain is doing special favours for an industry many Americans regard as villainous.
Mr Obama offers detailed and mostly sensible plans for dealing with problems from energy to health care. But it is not the details of his policies that voters recall after hearing him speak. It is the zingers.
Consider health care, which Americans get very worried about during economic downturns. Most working Americans are insured via their employer. If they lose their job, they may lose their cover. This makes them understandably nervous.
The two candidates’ health plans are quite different. Mr Obama wants to expand coverage with an infusion of public cash. Mr McCain wants to curb costs through greater competition and end the rule that says that only insurance provided by an employer enjoys a tax break. Both ideas make sense. But if you listen to either man’s description of the other’s plan, you might be alarmed.
Mr McCain says Mr Obama wants to socialise medicine, which is a stretch. Mr Obama tells a more plausible but equally deceptive story. He notes that Mr McCain offers families a $5,000 tax credit to buy health insurance. He then adds, ominously, that there is something Mr McCain is not telling you: a typical family’s health-insurance premium each year is about $12,000. Because Mr McCain is going to tax health benefits that you get through your employer, your employer may stop covering you. You may end up like Mr Obama’s mother, who died of cancer at 53 while battling insurance firms from her hospital bed.
麦凯恩说，奥巴马要施行医保社会化，其难以实现。奥巴马讲述的是个听起来更合理，但同样骗人的故事。奥巴马指出，麦凯恩提出了5000美元的税收减免让家 庭购买医疗保险。他随即补充说，不幸的是，麦凯恩隐瞒了其它的东西：一个普通家庭的健康保险费每年约为 12000美元。由于麦凯恩要征收你雇主所得的医保优惠税，雇主就可能对你停保，结果您可能会像奥巴马的母亲一样。她因癌症53岁去世时，尚在病床上与医保公司交涉。
Many people walk away from Mr Obama’s speeches convinced that, under Mr McCain’s plan, they will lose $7,000-worth of health insurance. In fact, since Mr McCain’s tax credit is substantially larger than the tax break on employer-provided insurance that it replaces (which is typically worth less than $3,000), the vast majority will be better off. But that is tough to explain to an electorate that has always struggled to make sense of America’s insanely complex health-care system. And Mr McCain is no great communicator.
With a month to go, Americans may hear a dirge of glum economic news nearly every day between now and the election. The Democrats who control Congress are happy to supply a headline or two.
This week, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform grilled fat cats from failed financial firms. Henry Waxman, the committee chairman, waxed indignant at the ex-boss of Lehman Brothers’ $500m pay package (most of which he lost when his firm collapsed last month), and at a $440,000 spa trip taken by executives at AIG, a failed insurer, after the government bailed it out. “The Treasury should demand that money back and those executives should be fired,” said Mr Obama during a debate with Mr McCain on October 7th, doubtless pleased to be fed such a juicy line.
During the same debate Mr McCain offered a bail-out for troubled homeowners, offering to buy up their mortgages and replace them with more manageable loans. His campaign estimates this will cost $300 billion. Meanwhile, Mrs Palin is playing the traditional running-mate’s role of attacking Mr Obama’s character; but after his bare-knuckle primary battle with Hillary Clinton there are no new charges to fling.
At a rally in Florida, Mrs Palin reminded supporters that Mr Obama held one of his first political meetings at the home of William Ayers, an unrepentant advocate of bombing American government buildings during the 1960s, who is now an educational activist in Chicago. Mr Ayers, who has been photographed proudly stamping on an American flag, also worked with Mr Obama on various educational projects. Mrs Palin said she feared that Mr Obama “is not a man who sees America the way that you and I see America.”
Mr McCain’s campaign ads have turned sharply negative. A recent one highlights Mr Obama’s ties to Chicago machine politicians and a corrupt property developer, Tony Rezko. Another links him to congressional Democrats who encouraged Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-backed mortgage giants at the centre of the housing bust, to direct a torrent of credit to un creditworthy borrowers. The campaign has mostly steered clear of reminding people that Mr Obama’s pastor of two decades thinks the American government created the AIDS virus to kill blacks, but Mrs Palin has hinted that she thinks this is fair game.
Mr Obama hit back with a long web ad detailing Mr McCain’s involvement in the savings-and-loan scandal of the 1980s. Mr McCain accepted campaign donations and trips on a jet from Charles Keating, a fraudster whose savings-and-loan later collapsed. The Senate ethics committee found Mr McCain guilty only of “misjudgment”. He has frequently expressed deep shame about the incident. Mr Obama’s ad suggests a direct link between it and the current financial crisis.
奥巴马的回击是一份长篇网页广告，里面详细地列出了麦凯恩参与的80年代“储蓄和贷款”事件。欺诈人查尔斯•基廷的储蓄和贷款公司后来破了产。麦凯恩曾接受基廷的竞选捐款并乘其喷气机旅行。参议院道德委员会判决麦凯恩仅仅属于 “判断误差” 。麦凯恩经常为此事深表惭愧。奥巴马的广告则暗示此事与目前财政危机之间有直接的关联。
Mr Obama’s fans are jubilant. At his rally last week in Michigan, some sold posters mocking Mr McCain’s seven homes: “McCain, please buy my house too!” And Gerald Morgan, a man selling T-shirts showing a big Obama face next to a little Nelson Mandela and a little Martin Luther King, said he’d be “elated” if his hero wins. This week, it looks much likelier.
奥巴马议员的支持者为目前形势所鼓舞。上周在密歇根州的一个集会上，部分售出的海报上嘲讽了麦凯恩的七处房产。上面写道： “麦凯恩，请你也买下我的房子吧！” 一名叫杰拉尔•德摩根的男子推销的T恤衫上，画着奥巴马的大面孔，旁边配着很小的纳尔逊•曼德拉和马丁•路德金。男子说，如果他的英雄得胜，他会十分得意。以本周情形来看，目标更近了。