Fear is driving the presidential election of 2008. Since the economic meltdown in early October, Barack Obama's poll numbers have steadily risen, as millions of Americans are afraid of losing their investments. They fear the federal government has lost control of the financial marketplace and are looking for a white knight to turn the situation around.
That fear is well-founded. The Bush administration has allowed speculators to run wild in the stock and commodities markets. This column stated last spring that oil speculators were artificially driving up prices and the oil companies were taking advantage of the situation by raising prices based upon 'futures contracts,' not supply and demand.
Naysayers criticized me, but when the speculators pulled out, oil prices cratered. The entire gas price deal was a scam, and the folks got hurt.
That, of course, happened on President Bush's watch, and so did the mortgage mess. Under the nose of the Securities and Exchange Commission, supposed federal watchdogs, banks and brokerage houses like Lehman and Merrill Lynch were allowed to buy up risky loans that banks made to folks who didn't have much money. When the unqualified homebuyers couldn't meet their payments, the market crashed. The feds simply stood by and watched the economy unravel.
So who can blame the folks for being angry and fearful? It seems nobody is looking out for them. And so they flocked to the new guy: Obama.
But now the fear factor may be shifting. For the first time, a new Rasmussen Reports poll shows that more Americans believe John McCain is better on economic issues than Obama. You can thank Joe the Plumber for that.
When Obama told Joe that he wanted to spread the wealth around, many Americans were startled. Is it the job of the federal government to take money from private citizens and give it to other citizens? Isn't that socialism? That one statement from Obama has turned fear to McCain's advantage.
Despite deep disenchantment with the Republican Party, most Americans remain traditional in their beliefs and do not admire entitlement cultures such as those in France and Scandinavia. Certainly, the Founding Fathers did not want a huge federal apparatus interfering in personal finance. Now, many voters, especially senior citizens who understand income redistribution, are becoming fearful that an Obama administration might bring about not only change, but drastic change.
The McCain campaign has seized on this. But with just a few days to go, it might be too late. However, fear can make folks do things quickly. This election is not over until the very frightened fat lady sings.
Veteran TV news anchor and author Bill O'Reilly is a host on Fox News. His "Radio Factor" can be heard from 1 to 3 p.m. weekdays on NewsTalk 1300 WIMO-AM.