The name of this post is the headline of today’s lead Boston Globe editorial, and sums up my feelings about this whole mess pretty well. I’m a budget hawk. The LAST thing I want is a $700 billion measure passed for, well, just about anything. And clearly no Wall Street fat cat deserves any kind of help or reward. Capitalism involves risk, and what kind of a system is it if we take away the most serious risks? The price of greed in this arrogant society is societal pain in exchange for individual gain. In a Globe article of man-on-the-street interviews, one Victor Thomas says, "I know one thing for sure. These guys on Wall Street aren't our friends." He’s right, but while I can’t think of anything less Christian than such reckless greed, this “Christian nation” has defended it at every turn for the last 27 years, and perhaps the last 232.
I’ve never had much respect for the financial industry. It’s just money for the sake of money. Even shady salesmen actually produce something. Kevin Trudeau may be a lying huckster and a thief, but he doesn’t just pull money out of the sky; at least he researches and writes books. Bill O’Reilly might by a bully and a blowhard, but at least he’s interviewing politicians and punsters. But while authors and salesmen deal in actual products, Wall Street makes money by pushing money. It’s a disgusting, incestuous cycle that starts nowhere and leads nowhere.
But like it or not, Main Street does intersect with Wall Street, and when investment banker run stop lights, they often hit the real Americans who had the right-of-way. As bad as it is to help out the financial gluttons, it is even worse to step back and let millions of Americans lose their 401Ks, insurance policies, student loans, and mortgages. Today’s lead New York Times editorial, “What’s Worse Than a Flawed Bailout?”, after an excellent list of the bailout’s problems, answers its own question: nothing. “The imperfections in this bill are the result of a democratic process that can be rethought, revisited and reworked. It is better than nothing, which is what some backward-looking House Republicans gave Americans on Monday.”
This crisis – Bear Stearns, Wachovia, Washington Mutual, Lehman Brothers, AIG, Merrill Lynch, Freddie and Fannie – is probably the fourth most important thing to happen in my lifetime so far, behind only 9/11 and the ’04 and ’08 presidential elections. If in the coming weeks Nero fiddles while Rome burns, the collapse will shoot right past those elections, because this time, the fires will spread to the countryside. And yet yesterday, Congress decided to audition for the role of Nero. Not only did 2/3 of House Republicans and 40% of House Democrats (including both my NH and ID congressmen) decide to vote against the bill, they couldn’t even explain why. House Minority Leader John Boehner said it was Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s fault for making a partisan speech before the vote. When I told this to my dad, he got quite upset and said anyone fickle and petty enough to vote based on a speech doesn’t deserve to be in Washington. The Globe’s editorial board expressed a similar sentiment: “Oh, come on. While most Democrats were willing to take the heat for an unpopular but necessary bill, Boehner got less than a third of his side to vote for a bill advanced by a president of his own party. Are House Republicans really so timid that a few tough words from Pelosi will scare them off?” Indeed, Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) broke from her leader to roll her eyes and say, “I want to assure you that was not the case. We are not babies who suck our thumbs. We have very principled reasons for voting no.” So, thumbs down for both party leaders, one for serious partisanship and the other for extreme pettiness. Thumbs down for the presidential candidates, as well. Jonah Goldberg of the LA Times has a nice summary:
This is not to say that McCain knows what to do. Faced with an unprecedented financial crisis involving frozen global credit markets and a maelstrom of moral hazard, his standard response is to talk about wiping out earmarks and eliminating waste, fraud and abuse. Memo to Mr. McCain: Waste, fraud and abuse are the only things holding the system together at this point.
Obama is no better. The man has spent two weeks irresponsibly excoriating his opponent for saying the fundamentals of the economy are strong -- a perfectly leaderly thing for McCain to have said during a panic. Then, campaigning in Colorado on Monday, the day the market plunged 777.68 points, Obama proclaimed: "We've got the long-term fundamentals that will really make sure this economy grows.”
On a related note, let us no forget the shortness of Obama and McCain’s coattails. NBC’s First Read takes both to task, first asking, who’s in charge of the Republican Party?
Apparently nobody. Perhaps the most startling political development was the amazing lack of leadership on the GOP side of the aisle. Let's run down the list of Republican leaders who attempted to persuade skeptical House Republicans: President Bush, John McCain, Dick Cheney, and John Boehner… Bush's leadership and trust issues within his party has been evidenced for quite some time, and the icing on the Bush legacy cake is that fact that he could only convince FOUR Texas House Republicans to support his bill. And then there's John McCain, who last week decided to insert himself into the process and then (before the bailout failed) took credit for getting wavering House Republicans on board. Perhaps he did get a few wayward House GOPers on board -- but it wasn’t enough. Now McCain gets a double stomach punch: He's stuck being seen as supportive of this bailout (which isn’t exactly popular with the conservative grassroots) and he gets to share in the blame for the defeat since he didn't have enough political capital to get this done (By the way, not a single member of the Arizona GOP delegation voted for this bill). …
Pelosi missed a huge opportunity to become an historic speaker and instead invited comparisons to Tom DeLay by deciding to deliver a more partisan speech than necessary at the time. There would have been time for partisan politics AFTER the vote, but to do it before seemed like a strategic blunder… Obama, who as McCain pointed out (probably jealously) kept a healthy distance from this process, didn't seem to try and exert any influence on some of the "no" votes from the progressive/liberal side of the Democratic caucus. A large chunk of those "no" voters were very early supporters of Obama during the primary. Would a true campaign by Obama to vote for this bill have persuaded another handful of Dems? Possibly.
There are good people in Washington and even in Congress, but if they’re speaking the truth right now, they’re not doing it very loudly. Chalk me up as one of the 75% of Americans who disapprove of the job Congress is doing, and if you figure out who the 17.8% are, do us all a favor and take away their voter registration cards. While I recommend liberal NYT columnist Bob Herbert’s column blasting free market Republicans and the McCain campaign, I’m going to give the final word to his Times colleague, right-of-center columnist David Brooks.
Let us recognize above all the 228 who voted no — the authors of this revolt of the nihilists. They showed the world how much they detest their own leaders and the collected expertise of the Treasury and Fed. They did the momentarily popular thing, and if the country slides into a deep recession, they will have the time and leisure to watch public opinion shift against them.
House Republicans led the way and will get most of the blame. It has been interesting to watch them on their single-minded mission to destroy the Republican Party. Not long ago, they led an anti-immigration crusade that drove away Hispanic support. Then, too, they listened to the loudest and angriest voices in their party, oblivious to the complicated anxieties that lurk in most American minds.
Now they have once again confused talk radio with reality. If this economy slides, they will go down in history as the Smoot-Hawleys of the 21st century. With this vote, they’ve taken responsibility for this economy, and they will be held accountable. The short-term blows will fall on John McCain, the long-term stress on the existence of the G.O.P. as we know it.
I’ve spoken with several House Republicans over the past few days and most admirably believe in free-market principles. What’s sad is that they still think it’s 1984. They still think the biggest threat comes from socialism and Walter Mondale liberalism. They seem not to have noticed how global capital flows have transformed our political economy…
The American century was created by American leadership, which is scarcer than credit just about now.