While the presidential campaigns of John McCain and Barack Obama have stepped gingerly around the financial crisis and the question of government intervention, third party candidates Bob Barr and Ralph Nader have shown no such compunction.
Instead they have embraced the market meltdown, viewing it as a rare opportunity to highlight bold economic positions and, perhaps as important, claim credit for sounding the early warning alarms.
"We've been hammering it," said Shane Cory, Bob Barr's deputy campaign manager. "When this first came about with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Bob was explaining, 'when we bail out Fannie and Freddie, expect more to come.'"
Barr, the former Republican congressman from Georgia who is running as a Libertarian, now sends out press releases lambasting the administration for indulging in corporate welfare, festooned with headlines such as "I told you so."
"This administration, supposedly devoted to free markets and fiscal responsibility, has bailed out the housing industry, the quasi-government mortgage companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the investment house Bear Stearns, and a leading insurer," read a Sept. 17 statement. "And how will we pay for this ever-rising bill for corporate welfare?"
Barr boasts that he was a few weeks ahead of the curve, pointing to an August 15 press release warning that the bailouts of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and Bear Stearns would lead to more irresponsible behavior and more bailouts in the future.
"The mere possibility of a bailout will discourage companies and markets from adjusting in the future," said the release.
The Nader campaign claims the independent candidate's prescience in predicting the current meltdown dates back more than a decade.
"Ralph has almost prophetically predicted over the last 15 years of deregulation what the effects might be," said Toby Heaps, a Nader spokesperson. "When Clinton removed the need for banks to pay annually into the FDIC [Nader] predicted the FDIC might be short on cash and taxpayers would need to bail it out."
Nader, a longtime consumer advocate who ran for president in 2000 and 2004, also predicted that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were headed for a crisis in his 2000 campaign.
He has seized the opportunity this week to take credit for being ahead of the curve and also to contrast his proposals with McCain and Obama. Nader has issued a detailed 10-point plan with short and long-term proposals ranging from imposing additional conditions on bailout recipients to making the Federal Reserve a Cabinet position that is accountable to Congress.
In an interview with Politico last week, Nader emphasized many of the same issues, calling the Federal Reserve "a government within government" that is unaccountable to the public or to democratic institutions. He also said that the current round of bailouts were worse than the Chrysler Corp. rescue of 1979 because it does not impose sufficient conditions on the companies or benefits to the government.
"[Nader]'s not unequivocally opposed to bailouts but he's opposed to those without reciprocity," explained Heaps. "For Chrysler, the government received stock warrants, so when the company recovered government made a $400 million profit. What happens today is people bow to what big business asks for without conditions whatsoever. He's opposed to unconditional bailouts like this one."
Like Nader, Barr also diverges from the cautious positions expressed by McCain and Obama. There is no hedging whatsoever: He opposes any bailout or additional regulation.
"Barr supports letting the free market run its course," said Cory.
Cory says that the campaign is seeing increased attention in Barr as a result.
"We're getting more people signing up for the email list, donations are up, our press releases are being carried more widely," said Cory. And although major media appearances remain somewhat elusive, there has been a notable uptick.
The Nader campaign reports it hasn't been as fortunate.
"I have never in my life seen someone so in the sweet spot of a story and get so little coverage," complained Heaps. "We've had some articles in small papers but nothing in the major media except a hit on FOX."
The Nader experience stands in stark contrast to the surge in media interest in longshot former Republican presidential contender Ron Paul, who ran in the GOP primary on a platform that strongly opposed deficit spending, called for abolishing the Federal Reserve, and issued dire predictions about the future of the U.S. economy.
Though he is no longer running for president, the crisis has sparked an unaccustomed media boomlet for Paul, who has made recent television appearances on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News and Fox Business.
Paul, like Nader, claims that recent events prove the correctness of his economic philosophy. "He thinks this is a long term crises that has been unwinding since 1971," said Jesse Benton, a Paul spokesperson.
Paul shares Barr and Nader's view that the government's response has been inappropriate.
"[The bailouts] prop up a bad system," said Paul on MSNBC Thursday afternoon. "All they've tried to do is patch up a system that is unworkable."