Wall Street's jubilation over Ben Bernanke's promise to lower interest rates at a moment's notice didn't last long. Stock market indexes plunged again on Friday, reacting to a stream of bad economic news. Credit card delinquencies and reduced spending are hammering American Express and Capital One. Lackluster December retail sales added more winter chill. Bank of America'> was widely seen as proof that the nation's biggest mortgage lender was on the verge of bankruptcy, and Merrill Lynch acknowledged that it might be on the hook for $15 billion worth of writedowns. And so on.
For politicians of both parties eager to curry favor with voters in the most wide-open primary battle in living memory, the timing couldn't be better. If you've got a fiscal stimulus rescue package aimed at beleaguered homeowners ready to go, America wants to hear about it.
On Friday, in Los Angeles, Hillary Clinton delivered.
"Here is what I would do tomorrow, if I could."
- A $30 billion fund "to help hard-hit communities and distressed homeowners weather the foreclosure crisis."
- A 90-day moratorium on foreclosures.
- A five-year freeze on mortgage interest rates.
- $25 billion in energy assistance for "families with skyrocketing heat bills."
- Doubling of the number of weeks that people are eligible for unemployment assistance.
Tax cuts for the middle class were not included in her to-do list for tomorrow, although she did note later in her speech, in response to an audience question, that she would make sure Americans earning over $250,000 would "pay the same tax rates they paid back in the 1990s so that I can give tax relief to middle-class families and hardworking families, going into your pockets, your futures."
Ever since her Iowa caucus shock, Hillary Clinton has been pushing the "rhetoric vs. results; talk vs. action" line to counteract Obamamania spawned by the lucid eloquence of the senator from Illinois. Judging by New Hampshire, the strategy worked, and she's not about to abandon it: "Elections are not just about speeches, they're not just about all the cameras showing up. They're about what happens when a leader has to finally make some tough decisions."
How the World Works is skeptical as to whether Clinton's bullet points will make a dent in the economic pain that appears imminent, and we're not fans at all of her lapses into xenophobic foreigner bashing, such as her warning that the holders of American mortgages are no longer the banks next door but "somebody sitting in Shanghai or in Dubai or in Berlin or in London or somewhere else in the world." Shanghai, Dubai and Berlin are a lot less culpable for American housing woes than the good old boys from Orange County and Manhattan.
But the line got a big round of applause, as did nearly all of Clinton's promises for speedy government aid. From a political point of view, it's the right message for tough times. We're sure to hear a lot more like it as the campaign season continues and the economy slumps.