Friday, September 26, 2008

If It Walks Like a Duck...

My, how the mighty have fallen. The New York Times reported this morning on the status of the proposed $700 billion bailout plan, and the picture emerging from the discussions is as topsy-turvy as one can imagine. On the one hand, we have the President, proposing that Congress grant him even more extraordinary powers so that he can handle this particular issue with the economy. On that same hand, it appears we have the Democrats, eager to get this piece of legislation under their belts, but maintaining that certain provisions are included so that it's not strictly a deal for Wall Street, by Wall Street and of Wall Street. In the end, though, it might be just that. The Times quotes House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as saying "It (the bailout) will happen because it has to happen." Such an impending tone makes one realize just how badly the financial sector has infiltrated the body politic. We're going to bailout banks that got in way over their heads irresponsibly because we have to. Nice.

On the opposite side of this battle are the Republicans, and this is what makes this current political climate so perplexing. The Republicans, long known for being Wall Street back scratchers, tax cutting everything from capital gains to C.E.O. bonuses, are now staunchly against the proposal. They find it absurd that tax-payer dollars ought to be spent in an endeavor to stabilize the financial sector, while little is done to curb spending in other areas. Of course, this kind of fiscal restraint was not evident during the first six years of the Bush administration, when they cut taxes, increased earmarks substantially and endorsed a war whose strategy was so flawed, that a major consequence is the vast sums being spent on it: some $10 billion per month.

Of course, this is no indictment of the corporate-Democratic paradox, nor of Republican hypocracy. They exist because it's the nature of the beast. This is the ultimate low of a presidency. Mr. Bush believes that history will come to his side, like it has for President Harry Truman. The Korean War killed Mr. Truman's presidency; Bush's lack of leadership has killed his. Truman did stubborn things like integrate the army, then the federal government, and endorsed the new state of Israel, all with significant opposition from his own staff, no less. Bush demanded loyalty at all cost, and held over his opponents a mandate that was as paper thin as his courage: because he could always find a way to garner fifty one percent, he could always win.

Democrats would come into the fold because some will lack the courage to stand their ground. Republicans would come for the obvious reasons, because it's their gravy train. Well, it's a good thing the American public can smell ineptitude, because in 2006 they fired the GOP, and essentially nutored Mr. Bush. His leadership style is so ineffective, he cannot even get his party in line in a moment of economic peril. Where Clinton signaled to Democrats that centrism is the quality needed for long term survival, Mr. Bush demonstrated that all you need is a simple majority. Where President Reagan obtained Democratic support in order to cut taxes in 1981, Mr. Bush used fear and the fresh memory of a tragedy to get the nation into as serious a circumstance one could find itself: war. And now we have a financial crisis even the most cautious observers call traumatic. "An end of an era on Wall Street", they say. And Mr. Bush, with his limp clout, trying to pull together a coalition to pass a vital law, cannot even get Wall Street's employees, his fellow Republicans, in line. January 20th cannot come soon enough.

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