OPINION: Barney Smith, not Smith Barney

The shockwaves from the financial crisis have left working class families in every part of the country in a state of great worry and fear.

Over $100 billion of public money has been spent to bail out huge financial corporations while millions of people are losing their homes, losing their health care, losing their pensions, losing their jobs and losing college loans. Those who have been paid the least, African American, Latino and women workers, are losing the most.

The line that brought down the house at the Democratic convention says it all: “The president should be worrying about Barney Smith, not Smith Barney.”

The question could be asked: who do you want in the White House as this economic crisis continues to unfold?

The economic policies of George W. Bush, supported by John McCain, including deregulation, privatization and tax gifts to the wealthy along with the $3-trillion-dollar war, are major contributors to this crisis. They have created the biggest wealth gap in the history of our country, similar to 1929.

John McCain showed that he represents four more years of the same when he declared that the fundamentals of the economy are sound. He’s been backtracking from that ever since, in an effort to maintain his campaign image of a maverick for change.

McCain’s cynical use of populist rhetoric has to be unmasked. His hypocrisy was revealed when he reversed his position and came out in support of regulation. Not only has McCain opposed regulation in the past, but his campaign staff is riddled with 83 top Wall Street corporate lobbyists. The regulation he supports now is likely to stabilize Wall Street at the expense of working people.

When it comes to Main Street, McCain voted with Bush against raising the minimum wage, voted against aid to the victims of Hurricane Katrina, voted against increasing veterans’ and children’s health care, home heating assistance and Pell grants for college. Barack Obama voted in favor of all of these measures.

John McCain, like Bush, supports privatizing Social Security and gambling the small incomes of senior citizens on the stock market. Millions would have been devastated when the financial crisis hit if this basic survival income was mixed up in the market. Barack Obama opposes privatization of Social Security.

John McCain says health care should rely on unregulated private plans, “as we have done over the last decade in banking.” If health insurance providers fail like the finance institutions, the ranks of the uninsured will be swelled far beyond the current 45 million to include just about everyone else. Barack Obama supports universal health care coverage.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney emphasizes the importance of a candidate who addresses the needs of working people in the midst of the financial crisis: “Permanent solutions can be found in the economic program of Barack Obama — re-regulation of the financial markets, a government focused on creating good jobs by investing in infrastructure and solutions to our energy crisis, health care for all Americans, a government that will protect and improve Americans’ retirement security, and a guarantee that American workers can bargain for their fair share of the wealth they create.”

The financial crisis raises the stakes of this election even higher. The wealth gap can be narrowed, or it can continue to escalate, plunging millions more into poverty.

The McCain campaign is spending big money on vicious ads filled with distortions and personal attacks against Obama, to create distractions and cloud the issues.

In the battlegrounds of Ohio and western Pennsylvania, union members have been knocking on the doors of fellow workers to talk things through. They are taking on the McCain “Swift boat” attack machine by comparing the candidates on issues of concern.

Those battlegrounds are beginning to turn from red to blue. Undecided workers and their families are coming to the conclusion that “enough is enough.” They want someone in the White House who voted with labor 98 percent of the time, not someone who voted with Bush all of the time last year.

Millions of similar one-on-one conversations among working people, young people and retirees all across this country can determine the outcome of the election.

Economic crises are basic to a system that allocates critical resources for short-term profit instead of for the social good. It will take a huge mass movement to achieve fundamental changes, just as it took a huge mass movement in the 1930s to win the New Deal.

An uprising of voters on Nov. 4 can change the political balance of power, thereby opening the way for new struggles and demands that the economic crisis be solved on behalf of working people instead of on the backs of working people.

That’s what this history-making election is all about.