America is such a great country (I always say to my friends) it survives even its leaders. After over-regulating everything in the years 1941-1981 our friends in Congress have gone about under-regulating everything in the years since. Now, thanks to a lack of oversight, we’re getting everything from lead-tainted Thomas-the Train-Engines from China to greedy capitalist con men blowing up the entire economy for the price of toxic bundled mortgage derivatives. Not to mention the fact that your local phone company won’t fix any of the lines inside your house or that credit card companies are now free to charge 100% interest rates, or that if you want to fly from Miami to San Francisco you have to go there by way of Ontario, Canada with stops in Harlingen, Texas and Reno, Nevada, and you still have to pay extra if you want to take a suitcase with you.
I covered the Hill for a long time in Washington D.C. and I never in my life saw the leadership of either party ask members to vote for a bill the outcome of which was not known in advance. That’s how it works. If the leadership wants a bill to pass and they don’t have the votes, they don’t put the bill up for a vote: they continue to tweak it until it will pass. I’m sure Democratic speaker Nancy Pelosi knew the thing was going down and put the bill up for a vote to give everyone in her party cover: anyone in her party voting for it, could blame Republicans if the bill failed and the economy tanked. Anyone in her party voting against it could say to constituents “You let me know you were overwhelmingly against this means of rescuing the U.S. economy” and that would provide them with a second kind of cover if the economy tanked. Once again, a political ploy was more important than what really happened to the country. With Louis in Casablanca I’m “Shocked! Shocked, to learn that gambling is going on here.” (Pass me my winnings.)
The sky is falling. The sky isn’t falling. Bail out Wall Street. Bail out Me. Americans are paying attention, we just don’t know who to believe anymore. The grownups keep wheeling out George “H.H.” Bush (H.H. for Herbert Hoover) having told him what to say, and he keeps warning us, and he has so little credibility left everyone treats him the way they treated Vice President Harley Hudson in Advise and Consent. “That’s great Harley,” (while not listening). “Oh yes Harley,” (while reading something else). “Fine, Harley,” (not hearing what he just said).
FDR called in a “brain trust” to help him solve America’s devastating economic problems after he was elected in 1932 (he wasn’t President in 1929 in spite of what Joe Biden thinks) and that makes sense. No President can be expected to know what to do when something this complex needs fixing. You call in specialists. And when you are the President of the United States and the problem is this important you should be able to call in the smartest specialists in the world. There has to be somebody out there smarter than Henry Paulson, formerly of Goldman Sachs, one of the fine financial institutions that got us into this mess in the first place.
If so, whose brain would you trust? It is too late for George Bush to call in anybody and the contents of his own cranium have been in doubt for several years now. But we should be studying the character of these two presidential candidates to discover, not what they say they are going to give us when they are elected, but to discern what kind of judgment they have to know when they need help and what kind of help they would seek when they saw they needed it. I haven’t seen a positive sign of this yet, but I continue to be optimistic.
I was looking forward to the Vice Presidential debate on Thursday night as a silly sort of food fight between Dumb and Dumber, but now I just want to cover my eyes. I’m not sure I’ll even be able to watch. I’m hoping they will both surprise me and be articulate and intelligent. Right now, I want everyone who has the potential to be a leader in this country to have an abundant supply of those qualities. My version of supply side economics.