Man you got the best stall.”

On Belmont University’s main drag where hundreds had gathered with their wares, their literature, their arguments and their crazy sh-t, for the second Presidential debate a young Obama kid was going into extacies over the right to life stall.

“That is so beautiful.”

He was spot-on too. The anti-choice crowd had really made an effort, with window-boxes full of bright marigolds and large-headed daisies festooning the site. You could see their intent.

“We really care about all life even pretty flowers”, they seemed to be saying. “Abortionists are, when it comes down to it, just slobs.”

They were on Tory row, just between the McCain-Palin official stand, and the Lamar Alexander for Senate site, which was much as the name suggested. It was an island of conservative resentment in a sea of Obama hope, rolling and crashing to both ends of the campus. In red-state Tennessee, and red city Nashville, Belmont is one of four universities pretty much next to each other, which form a sort of force-field.

Fair go, though Americans can take anything as an opportunity to sell sh-t. Is this a good and great thing, a relentless spirit, or is it why everyone’s hanging from the end of the Dow, as it shrieks around the rollercoaster rails of obscolescent capitalism, to use Samir Amin’s phrase?

Who knows, but I reckon a lot of Americans are questioning the very basis of their life at the moment, as the recession widens and deepens across the world. Monday’s Dow dive really hit people hard, after the hope that the bailout would act as some sort of shazam moment — it made it clearer to everyone that they were heading for a grinding recession at the very least, and probably something worse.

The Dow dipping below 10,000 was another such moment, because the first time it crossed 10,000 was in 1999, at the height of the dotcom boom. Remember that? The new economy, the weightless economy? The problem of cycles had been busted, and things were just going to rise for ever and ever?

The bubble de choix at the time was the dotcom boom — finance capital so desperate to keep the merry-go-round going that it was willing to pour billions into a website and a ring binder business plan. Before that it was savings and loans, old, cautious institutions juiced in the blender and poured into the mix. When the dotcoms tanked, mortgages were pressed into service.

Why? Well because mortgages are the last big and sluggish asset. There ain’t nothing else. And they look so solid, their value written down in bricks and mortar. They’re not of course. The value of real estate is dependent on occupancy levels — once those start to go backward, housing values can fall off a cliff. In the US, multiple occupancy — moving in with your parents or you kids, or sharing, or sleeping in your cousin’s living room, has risen by 45% in the last three years. The latest estimate is that by the end of next year 40-50% of mortgagees will be paying more out than the house is worth, and there seems no likelihood that Australia will be much different.

Down Debate Alley came the 9-11 truthers, marching lockstep until the cops dispersed them. They seem to have taken up a uniform verging on self parody — raincoats and trilbys, like Gene Hackman’s character in The Conversation, that prescient masterpiece of postmodern paranoia.

“You’re not being told that Barack Obama and John McCain are the same,” yelled one as he was thrown out.

Behind them Presidential lookalikes were gathering near the Bono-influenced “One” movement, a cult worthy of an investigation itself. Bill, Dubya and Sarah in attendence. No Hillary, no Monica — though she may have been in the trailers.

“You didn’t ask a Bill Ayers question,” I yell at the Fox news reporter doing vox-pops.

“We’re Fox local I don’t have anything to do with that crap,” she yells back.

Fast footwork may reliquify the West, but I wouldn’t bet the house (you suddenly own a lot less of) on it. There’s a lot of reasons being given for the current crisis — and the looniest most dishonest frikkin one I’ve seen has currently been taken up by the Oz press in the form Gerard Henderson and La Albrechtsen, which is the right wing argument that this was all the fault of excessive regulation — but it seems finally to be coming clear to people that this is not a mere bubble, but a reflection of a deeper crisis in the world economy — lack of useful production in the west, underconsumption in the east, and vice versa.

To base global growth on the West borrowing money from China to buy crap from China was a short term solution at best, and what we are now hearing is the same noise you hear when glaciers calve — a sort of awful wonderful sound of what’s going to happen happening. In that respect, Albrechtsen and others are right in slating the blame on “greed'”as asinine. If greed was corrosive of capitalism, the thing would have collapsed long ago. Your average Wall Street banker is a pussy compared to the thugs and murderers who built the railroads and steel mills of the nineteenth century.

Whether this will make an appearance in the debate at that sort of level remains to be seen, i.e. no. But Americans are thinking a lot more seriously than other people — certainly than the likes of Henderson or Albrechtsen — about what’s happening at the moment. They don’t have much but to.

That’s bad news for McCain who has played the most recent economic crisis so so wrong right from the start — going from “the fundamentals of the economy are sound” to “greatest crisis since 1929 when I entered the Senate” in a week, pfaffing around with the campaign suspension while Obama consulted and then came to a measured course of action, the process suddenly reversing the presumption of experience and not.

Now, via Sarah Palin, the McCain campaign has simply abandoned the economy altogether, and gone back to the question of character via the obscure personage of Bill Ayers. Obama supporters watched this renewal of trash politics — the new accusations of disloyalty has moved supporters to yell “traitor” and “kill him” about Obama at McCain rallies — with trepidation. Would they do a Kerry yet again and stay on the high road?

Crowds thickening at the entrance where the candidates will arrive. Academics and guests gathered on the balcony of the University Club looking down. Medieval like a seething carnivale waiting for the saints to bless the buboes.

A “green jobs” demonstration marches through a gas station forecourt and a few peel off to buy snacks from it.

“Fixed News!” Yells someone as the Fox News local comes into the Bongo Java cafe.

“I don’t … ah screw it,” she says.

Fortunately not, bringing the issue round with an attack on McCain’s record as part of the late 80s “Keating Five” — what a crap doowop group that was — savings and loan scandal, and as a twofer, digging up an old bunch of Nicaraguan contra thugs and murderers — apologies for the tautology — that McCain palled around with at the time. The Alaska Independence Party stuff is still there to be used — the party that Sarah Palin told to “keep up their good work” at their 2008 Convention was founded by a man who said that “fires of hell were glacial compared to the burning hatred he felt for the American flag” and who was buried in Canada so as not to rest under the stars and stripes — buried after he was murdered by a man he appears to have been buying plastic explosive from. Man, they’ve got to hit that. There’s also “Troopergate”, the report due to hit the streets on Friday. McCain-Palin may regret opening up these fronts.

Yet what else could they do? It’s lost on economic issues, and only 15% of Americans rate foreign policy as the number one issue, which is where else they could steer it. Some have been talking about McCain’s undoubted suprior skills at the one-on-one joust in front of a town hall meeting audience, but that may be less commanding than it once was. For one thing McCain sounds tired, as you would expect him to be, and simply erratic, contradicting himself one sentence after the next. The suspension brouhaha knocked him around, and Obama suddenly sounded more aggressive and energetic. That faded somewhat, but McCain’s ability to growl him down is much diminished.

Yet Obama can be terrible in answering questions from the audience, unable to find focus, hitting the wrong note. If McCain had a great alternative approach to the economy now would be the time to show it. That his erraticism may have become terminal seems to have been demonstrated by his announcement that he would get tough on Medicare (state health insurance or the over 65s, paid by levy on income) spending — at the same time he’s campaigning hard for Florida and has just shifted a bunch of his former Michigan workers there. South Florida — one long Medicare ward. Doesn’t make a blind bit of sense. Man. I’ll regret saying this but I sure hope McCain has one shot still in his locker to make this interesting.

Well the Bongo Java is full now, with four big screens in three rooms, every local freak, and dmk and Obamaite gathered in the one place.

I come back through Debate Alley one last time when everyone’s packing up — is that all there is to a circus?

I turn the camera on an essential oils stall (“Fox News f-ck off,” over my shoulder), young black alt women, looks like she does her colour chart.

“If Obama was one of your products what would he be?” I ask, hoping for some dippy answer.

“Calendula because it’s for hope” and dammit if that is not an answer, so beautiful…

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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