Here at the World Economic Forum high up in the Swiss Alps at Davos, most of the talk is about financial turmoil -- but certainly not all.
"Davos," as it is called, is an annual gathering of leaders
from business, politics, non-governmental organizations, the academy, journalism and other fields. Some 2,500 have piled into the village for non-stop conference sessions, networking, deal-making and the like -- darn little skiing, I'm afraid. Of the biggest 100 companies worldwide, some 74 are represented by CEOs.
The mood this year is unusually gloomy because no one knows where the bottom is on the markets and the global economy. There is much criticism here of the U.S. for allowing the housing bubble and the credit mess; Bernanke is also a subject of fierce debate -- whether he acted just right or was panicky. If there is a consensus, I sense that the heavy hitters believe the dangers are less in the stock market than in economic growth. Most think the U.S. has probably entered a recession already and there is worry that it could go deep and possibly long.
If people aren't talking economics -- or climate change -- they mostly want to talk about U.S. politics. This race is exciting, but the longer and meaner it becomes, the candidates themselves become less exciting. The betting here is that Hillary has maybe a 60-40 likelihood of winning the Democratic nomination, and that unless McCain wins Florida, the GOP could have a long battle between McCain and Romney. McCain is widely seen as the strongest GOP candidate in the fall -- and Dems worry that he could actually win despite a terrible environment for the Republicans.
Bill Clinton has people of all stripes shaking their heads. Through his Global Initiative and his Foundation, he had climbed onto a pedestal here at Davos. No one fully understands why he seems to be climbing off in the way he has -- not just the hard-hitting attacks against Obama and the lashing out at the press but what is increasingly seen as a cynical campaign to get under Obama's skin (and succeeding) and to convert Obama from being a post-racial, post-partisan figure into a black candidate (also working).
Everyone agrees that he deeply believes in Hillary and thinks she would be a good president. But in explaining his excesses, some speculate he is also trying to atone to her for the past. A few believe that his heart issues have left him with less energy than in the past and that when he gets tired, he is more apt to let his emotions show (everybody knows how much he detests press coverage of Hillary). But the explanations don't stop there.
One person who had worked closely with him said that he can't stand it when someone becomes a darling of the elite press; he thinks given his intellectual strength and years of public service, he should be their sentimental favorite. This person -- as well as some other Clintonites -- believe that he knows exactly what he is doing in trying to bring down Obama. "Remember how effectively his campaign brought down Paul Tsongas in 1992," I was reminded. To a person, the Clintonites would like to see the other Bill re-emerge.
Not very warming thoughts here in the snows of Switzerland. More tomorrow.