Through the Morning Show Wormhole

Three shows, two candidates, one talking point each

You probably woke up with a gnarly Crisis-on-Wall-St. Hangover this morning, so you’ll be forgiven if you missed seeing John McCain and Joe Biden violate the laws of physics by appearing, minutes apart, on three morning shows, back to back, to analyze cures for said Hangover.

First, McCain was beamed onto Good Morning America from a wood-paneled sanctum in Miami. What was behind this financial mess? The maverick senator from Arizona, husband of beer heiress Cindy and progeny of a long line of admirals and warriors, posited that the “old-boy network” was to blame, as was “Washington corruption.” These old boys and Washington insiders, McCain insisted, created a culture of “corruption” and “excess” and “treated the American economy like a casino.” And, by the way, when McCain said yesterday that the unraveling American economy was “fundamentally strong,” he meant, of course, that the American worker was fundamentally strong: “I said the fundamental of our economy is the American worker,” he explained. “I know that the American worker is the strongest, the best, and most productive and most innovative.” Obvi! But now that we’re here, how do we get out of here? Why, a “9/11 Commission,” of course.

On to the Today Show, where gladiator Matt Lauer grilled John McCain (still in the wormhole-defying sanctum) from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. (“It was a bloodbath here yesterday,” Lauer reported wearily.) How did McCain square his message of America’s fundamental economic soundness with his own ad arguing that the economy was in crisis? McCain:

Well it’s obviously true that the American workers are the fundamentals of our economy and our strength and our future, and I believe in the American worker and someone who disagrees with that, it’s fine. We are in a crisis. We all know that the excess, the greed, the corruption on Wall Street have caused us to have a situation which is going to affect every American. We are in a crisis…I warned two years ago that we were in trouble in this area, that Fannie and Freddie are the classic example of inside the Beltway, old-boy network that we’re going to fix and change.

And the system wasn’t equipped to handle the strains placed on it by the old-boy network:

The patchwork quilt, the alphabet soup of regulatory agencies, which has never been reformed. And we need a 9/11 Commission. We need a commission to figure out what went wrong, and how to fix it. And I know we can do it, and I’ll do it.

Quick! Get your wood paneling through the wormhole and over to CNN! Kiran Chetry will help you deliver some fresh insights to the American people!

Well, what I obviously was saying, and I believe is the American workers, the most productive and the most innovative, they are the fundaments of our economy and the strength of it and the reason why we will rebound. We will come back from this crisis but right now we are the victim of greed, excess and corruption on Wall Street which is hurting them very, very badly….I said two years ago that the Fannie and Freddie thing was a very serious problem and that we had to work on it, and I have always opposed greed of Wall Street and I know how we can fix this. We have to assure every American that their deposit in a bank is safe and we have to have a 9/11 commission and we have to fix this alphabet soup of regulatory agencies that’s left over from the 1930s.

To summarize: Wall Street and old-boy network get greedy, but even their greed, which has led us into this crisis and which we will examine with a 9/11 Commission and solve by undoing the patchwork alphabet soup of regulatory agencies, will never shake the ingenuity of the American worker, who is the fundamental of the American economy.

Got that?

Good, because following McCain closely through the wormhole was Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden. Biden was asked the same questions everywhere—another weird wrinkle in the laws of physics, I reckon—and yet he somehow managed to mount a vigorous defense in two places almost at once! He explained away Obama’s performance in the polls, went after a spate of McCain attack ads, and defended Obama’s tax hike on the wealthy, all while reassuring the squeezed middle class and the American worker who, Biden said, “has been left out in the cold.” He also proffered his own set of accusatory mixed metaphors.

On the Today Show:

On [McCain’s] watch, we went up on the shoals here. The idea here is, are you going to hire a doctor to operate on you who’s just been convicted of malpractice? Are you gonna do that?

And another good whack at the quack on CNN’s American Morning:

It’s been the Republicans, the Republican philosophy that John has adhered to that’s driven us in the hole and when you have a doctor that’s committed malpractice you don’t hire him for the second operation.

So if we’ve learned anything in these first days of this Economic Crisis, it’s that doctors convicted of malpractice are not to be trusted, nor are good old boys inside the Beltway casino. Trust in the American worker who, though left out in the cold, is still fundamentally inventive and strong. Trust also in the power of the morning show wormhole, which lobs energy packets of predictable softball questions at already well-rehearsed politicians. Then again, nobody has ever mistaken morning show interviews for rocket science.

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Julia Ioffe is a freelance writer based in New York City.