Obama’s halting response to yesterday’s dramatic announcement`by John McCain followed by his about-face and agreement to attend the meeting convened by President Bush even as he insists that tomorrow’s debate go forward reveals much more than standard operating bumbling by Obama when the script he’s been reading from unexpectedly changes.
Obama appears to genuinely not grasp the stakes here. He is not acting like a leader who understands the risks the country faces. And this is not surprising giving his experience gap when it comes to money, work, and savings much less finance.
Hank Adler has written on the Obama’s 2004 tax returns and what they reveal about his economic life. In a nutshell, the Obamas were like many classic Yuppies that rose quickly from very modest means and saved little along the way, an analysis that tracks closely Michelle Obama’s frequent campaign trail references to how strapped the young couple was by student loans and the costs associated with a young family until the big book deals came along after Barack Obama’s 2004 keynote address. It appears, in fact, that the Obamas had little in the way of savings or investments prior to his big publishing scores, though their combined incomes were quite high. Nor does it appear that either had inherited anything from their families as their tax returns show no interest or dividend income or distributions from inherited IRAs.
Combine this inability to save prior to the windfall years with the well known accounts of Obama’s rather modest circumstances growing up and the picture emerges of a young professional who is essentially clueless about savings and investment growth. Of course he has never started much less grown a business, and there is nothing in his background to indicate he grasps what it means to need and responsibly use business credit, or to spend decades patiently accumulating mutual fund assets through regular payroll deduction.
In short, Obama does not appear to know the enormous risk millions of Americans are facing right now. He certainly doesn’t communicate any of the sense of urgency that millions of Americans feel as they watch the value of their hard-won investments drop precipitously and read of even greater risks ahead. Obama is tone deaf to the warnings of the consequences to small and medium-sized businesses of an extended liquidity crisis. He clearly does not grasp what the threats to money market accounts mean to ordinary middle class Americans. As one caller put it yesterday: “What about my son’s college fund!”
What about it indeed. What some people call the “the investment class” should really be known as the “savings culture,” and these tens of millions of savers could care less about speeches or Jim Lehrer’s questions tomorrow night.
They are, however, deeply worried that everything they have worked for and saved for is imperiled by a financial crisis that has nothing to do with their behavior and everything to do with their futures and the futures of their children and grandchildren. Obama reacted like a tycoon yesterday, one of the elite who knows no matter how the chips fall, he and his family will be fine. He’s personally not sweating it, and he doesn’t have to. Few people are as set as the Obamas right now.
Obama’s inability to understand the genuine fear in the middle class and to respond appropriately and with a priority on protecting the long-and-painfully accumulated assets of the savings culture should be a huge warning flare to the electorate.
Obama just doesn’t get it, and really cannot be expected to get it. He comes out of a career in the professional liberal-to-leftist political class spent tending to the needs and crises of the urban poor and the academic elites and special interest groups of the Chicago machine. His life growing up was not spent among the small business owners and white collar savers that mark so much of suburban, small town and rural America. He has zero experience with real business, and he’s not worried about the college funds of his girls.
Obama revealed a great deal yesterday beyond his obvious inability to react quickly to unanticipated events. He showed us a profound ignorance not just of the financial crisis but of the people it threatens to injure and injure deeply.