If the headline on a recent Associated Press dispatch failed to alarm you, you can’t have been paying attention: “Bush Confident Sweeping Measure Will Stabilize Economy.” That was scant hours before the House rejected Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson’s Wall Street rescue plan. As a rule, the more confidence President Bush expresses, the worse things are. How and why the administration allowed [the financial crisis] to deteriorate until stopgap emergency measures couldn’t wait would appear something of a mystery. If there’s anything Republicans are expected to understand, it’s money.
It’s actually not so mysterious. Until the impending failures of Lehman Brothers and insurance giant A.I.G. threatened a meltdown of the entire Wall Street credit market, it appears that Paulson and Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke were counting on limping past the November election in the hope that a newly elected Congress and president-elect might deal with the problem in a less fevered climate. Recently, GOP presidential nominee John McCain was assuring audiences that “the fundamentals of our economy are strong.” On Republican talk radio, see, it’s been an article of faith that Democrats have been falsely talking down the economy for political purposes.
So when Speaker Nancy Pelosi correctly pointed out that Bush inherited budget surpluses, turned them into massive deficits and continued to preach deregulation, GOP congressmen got petulant and killed the bailout plan. The poor babies got their feelings hurt. Live by Limbaugh, die by Limbaugh. In the bombastic radio host’s upside-down world, it’s not Paulson and the White House who are responsible for the bailout bill, but Democratic “thieves” scheming to use the crisis to raise taxes on the “little guy.” Is it necessary to point out that Paulson’s bailout proposal contains no taxes at all?
Meanwhile, there’s Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin’s contribution to the debate. Pressed by CBS’s Katie Couric, who asked if it might not be a better idea to help middle-class families than rescue the big financial institutions that created this mess, Palin responded as follows:
“That’s why I say I, like every American I’m speaking with, were ill about this position that we have been put in where it is the taxpayers looking to bail out ... what the bailout does is help those who are concerned about the healthcare reform that is needed to help shore up our economy ...”
In short, Palin has no clue. What with McCain donning his Mighty Mouse costume and rushing to Washington to save the day, his hand-picked vice-presidential candidate turns out to be somebody you wouldn’t hire to prepare your own tax return. Pelosi ought to have known better than to schedule a vote on the bailout plan without knowing whether she had the votes. One thing’s clear: Republican ideologues have created yet another fiscal disaster; adult supervision will again be required.
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of “The Hunting of the President” (St. Martin’s Press, 2000). You can e-mail Lyons at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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