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McCain, Obama Both Offer Solutions For Wall Street

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

We want to talk more now about the politics of the financial crisis. Wall Street was a focus for presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama on Monday. Syndicated columnist David Sirota recently wrote about the qualifications of both men to handle the Wall Street mess, in an article for the online publication ourfuture.org. And he joins us now from member station KUVO in Denver, Colorado. Hi, David.

Mr. DAVID SIROTA (Journalist): Hi, there.

MARTIN: David, now, you are a former Democratic strategist. It's important to let people know that, but you laid out a side-by-side analysis of how Obama and McCain might respond to this crisis when either becomes president. You say that both have strengths and weaknesses. Let's deal with the strengths first. What are they?

Mr. SIROTA: Well, the strengths are that both of these people have at least rhetorically voiced some willingness to confront Wall Street and corporate power in general. Fixing this crisis is going to require making some choices that aren't going to make Wall Street folks and aren't going to make big business all that happy - specifically, more regulation.

You know, both Obama and McCain in their speeches have talked about more regulation. In many ways, the political debate has really shifted substantially because you now have both presidential candidates, both presidential tickets, talking about more regulation. I think that's a very good thing.

MARTIN: But as for weaknesses, you point out that both McCain and Obama have gotten money from the companies at the center of the financial meltdown. How much, and how important is that? And how much money have they gotten, and has somebody gotten more than the other, and do you think that affects their decision-making?

Mr. SIROTA: Well, it's a good question. You know, actions speak louder than words, and oftentimes, in politics, money dictates what the actual actions are. Both candidates have taken a huge amount of money from the securities and investment industry, Barack Obama about $10 million, John McCain about $6.8 million. In some of the specific companies, Obama has taken about double the amount of money. I think it's about $398,000 from Lehman Brothers, and McCain has taken about - something around half that.

And so what this raises is the question of whether the rhetoric on the campaign trail will be matched with a specific agenda once one of these people gets into the White House. History tends to tell us that if you take huge sums of money from an industry, you are going to be less interested in regulating or cracking down on that industry.

MARTIN: And yet, you point out that, rhetorically, both of them have said that they will. Interesting, so what's the difference?

Ms. SIROTA: Well, I think that, look, the difference is a couple things. When you really get down to it, you see that McCain's campaign is staffed with more lobbyists, corporate lobbyists who are directly representing or have represented some of the companies at the center of this. Now similarly, Obama, he doesn't have lobbyists in his campaign, but some of his economic gurus, like Citigroup's Bob Rubin, are also intimately involved in this crisis.

I tend to think that Obama will be a little bit better positioned to confront this crisis and confront corporate power because his party is built with a different coalition than the Republican Party. The Democratic Party does have a lot of corporate money in it, but it also does have unions and consumer groups. McCain's political base, the Republican Party, is basically the party of big business, and it does not have much of a track record, if any, of really regulating Wall Street in any serious way.

MARTIN: But just to let people know where you're coming from, the title of your last book is "Hostile Takeover: How Big Money and Corruption Conquered Our Government." So, you know, clearly, you have a point of view on this. Is it - but given McCain's record, you point out yourself that he's been a junkyard dog, rhetorically, on some of these issues. He has confronted these people very directly in a way that you're saying Obama has not, that he has been much more professorial in sort of analyzing their role in the economy and so forth.

Mr. SIROTA: Well, this is the question, you know. You can go back and forth on this. You know, my book said that this is really a bipartisan problem, and I do hold out bipartisan hope that, if John McCain is elected, he could be stronger on this than a typical Republican. He has called Wall Street the villain.

He likens himself on the campaign trail to Teddy Roosevelt. And actually, as a Senate chairman, he has taken on some issues of corporate power, taken on lobbyists, pushing campaign financial reform. And Obama, you are absolutely right. Obama has been something of a confrontation-averse candidate. He is a guy who seems to suggest that he can make everybody happy, that he can, on health care, for instance, make patients, doctors, the health insurance industry, all happy at the same time.

That kind of attitude, if you bring it into this kind of crisis, if you think you can make both Wall Street brokers, CEOs, shareholders and the taxpayers at large happy all at once in the face of this crisis, you're going to be sorely mistaken. And usually, what ends up happening with an ideology like that is taxpayers get left holding the bag.

MARTIN: But it's also true that there are two things that are happening here. One is that there is an economic slowdown, and at some point, the economy has to get moving again. You heard our earlier analyst talk about the credit crisis. At some point, there has to - you know, the spigots need to open again if there is going to be a sort of any economic activity. Do you have any thoughts about who would be better positioned to do that? Because, in essence, you do have to do both, don't you? You have to restore confidence, and you also have to get the economy going.

Mr. SIROTA: That's absolutely right. And again, I think that Obama's policy agenda on that is better than McCain's. McCain suggests - and Palin, they were here in Colorado yesterday. They were talking about how the way to get the economy moving is to simply enact bigger tax cuts. Obama has a program that's a more robust investment, public investment, which I think is more reliable in terms of priming that pump. So again, McCain is not a standard Republican, as Obama would like portray him. But Obama, I think, still remains a stronger option in dealing with economic issues.

MARTIN: And, of course, we do have to point, again, you are a Democrat and a progressive, so that's where you're coming from, but we thank you. David Sirota's latest book is "The Uprising: An Unauthorized Tour of the Populist Revolt Scaring Wall Street and Washington." Thank you so much for speaking with us.

Mr. SIROTA: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.