Friday, 30 May 2008

Friday Commentary

A more notable day than most as Mr Stodge Senior is 80 today. He was therefore born in the same year as Fats Domino, Rosemary Clooney and James Garner and in the year the first pound and ten shilling notes were introduced.

1928 was also of course an election year in the United States. Herbert Hoover won a landslide majority over Alfred Smith to secure a third successive Republican term. There are a few parallels with 2008 - the incumbent President Calvin Coolidge did not seek re-election so both the Republicans and Democrats went through a primary process. Hoover easily won the GOP nomination while Governor Smith of New York won the Democratic nomination.

It was said that Smith was beaten by the three "P"s - "prosperity, prejudice and prohibition". Hoover rode the late 1920s economic boom and Smith's Catholicism was a big factor.

Today Barack Obama faces problems relating to religion though less his own than the pastors and priests who preach at his local Church. The epic that has been the Democratic nomination race reaches the endgame in the next few days with a key meeting tomorrow to determine how to deal with the "absent" delegates from Florida and Michigan and the final primaries in Puerto Rico (tomorrow) and Oregon and Kentucky on Tuesday.

I can't help but feel that Obama has been weakened by recent events - Hillary Clinton continues to fight despite the delegate count looking hopeless - and the real winner has been John McCain who, like Hoover, has enjoyed a serene route to the GOP nomination.

I predicted a McCain - Obama fight at the beginning of the year though I now find both men disappointing and flawed. Obama speaks well but looks at times like a boy sent on a man's errand while McCain desperately tries to get out from Bush's coattails and to keep his temper in check.

The issue is now turning to the choice of Vice-Presidential candidate.

As in 1928, the new President will face a new economic reality albeit it is already here whereas it arrived out of the blue in the autumn of 1929. As then, years of prosperity are coming to an end. Hoover was quite incapable of responding to the new conditions and was trounced in 1932 by Franklin Roosevelt. For John McCain it would be an unhappy parallel.

Yet I don't sense EITHER McCain or Obama has the answers or insight into the new world - a world in which cheap fuel, cheap raw materials and cheap credit are a thing of the past. The petrol stations are still busy at £1.14 a litre or more but food inflation is real and dramatic. In both the US and UK the housing market is weak - years of overproduction of houses now mean that prices in Las Vegas have fallen by 25%.

Dad of course has seen it all and much more beside. Perhaps I should ask him what we should do...

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