NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- To borrow a line, it's not that I think Barack Obama and John McCain don't care about what's happening on Wall Street. I think they just don't get it.
Or, maybe they do get it but are unwilling to talk about what's really a complicated problem that calls for a solution requiring everyone to pitch in.
Instead both candidates have offered "blame game" rhetoric on the stump and little more in the form of written policy.
Listen to the Democrat talk about Wall Street, and you'll hear what the Republican thinks and be told that the crisis is the Republican's fault.
Listen to the Republican talk, and you'll hear him call the economy "fundamentally sound," blame Wall Street's woes on "unbridled corruption and greed" and propose the formation of a commission.
Sorry, guys, but how about a plan?
For all of the issues facing the next president, the collapse of the American financial industry is moving up the priority list.
Want southern Texas to rebuild after Hurricane Ike? It will take U.S. banking muscle, through loans and credit, to get it done. You might want American International Group Inc. to be a working insurance company, too.
Want to send more troops to Iraq or, perhaps, pull them out? Both plans will cost money that the government will have to borrow on credit that may or may not be there at all if it's forced to prop up insurance and mortgage companies.
All roads lead to Wall Street -- even Pennsylvania Avenue.
It's one thing to not have a plan and quite another to have one that shows a lack of understanding of the financial mess and how we arrived here. But before we look at what the candidates have been saying, let's get one thing straight: Though a lack of regulation did have a central role in the financial crisis, it's not a complete explanation, and a response to that factor will not be the whole solution.
Deregulation didn't push homeowners to take on mortgages they couldn't afford. It didn't push ratings agencies to sign off on the junk. The government can't make business decisions for businesses. That's not how it works. Wall Street needs the ability to take risks. Business ownership is risk.
Obama, after a weak stump attack against "predatory lenders" early in the campaign, has, in the last few weeks, spelled out more than McCain has. He's talked about strengthening capital requirements on mortgage securities and derivatives, rigorously managing liquidity risk, and investigating ratings agencies and their potential conflicts of interest with companies they rate.
There's not much to criticize there, and that's the problem. Obama is echoing what people in the current administration -- people like Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke -- have been saying. There's nothing new. Obama's "plan" is a bunch of warmed-over ideas.
The bad news is that, as weak as Obama's plan is, it's better than McCain's. Aside from his idea to create a 9/11-style commission to find out what went wrong and propose changes, McCain wants a safety-and-soundness regulator for every financial institution.
Again, that's not bad, but it's hardly radical. And it doesn't reflect the immediate problem that firms like Bear Stearns Cos., Lehman Brothers and perhaps Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. are tumbling dominos.
Considering his record, McCain should know better. He's consistently voted for less regulation, including the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act. But it's not like McCain hasn't been out front. He warned about the looming risk at Fannie Mae
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac back in 2003.
Obama doesn't have McCain's record, but that's no excuse. He wants to be president. He should learn or get some advisers who know finance and are willing to give us more than what was in the paper this morning.
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