A Wonderful Failure

UPDATE: Events overtook this post so the note of optimism no longer holds. I am still publishing it because the points about failed leadership, failed lawmaking strategies and the need to not be frightened into relinquishing our values all still hold. I have also posted a table with the list of yes voters, their home pages and a quick search link for their challengers next month. Throw all of ‘em out.

No Associated Press content was harmed in the writing of this post

After the bailout died on Monday there was a chorus of wailing, but its failure meant some very good things. It wasn’t the final word of course; a new version could still pass. However, any member switching from "no" is possibly committing political suicide. Those in close races voted against it (via) and retiring GOP members became a focus as the clock wound down. Anyone up for re-election shortly will have a hard time getting out from under a "yes" vote. And November 4th will not be the last you hear of it, either. Some issues, especially if big enough or egregious enough, flare back into public consciousness if given a reason. All that said, an equally bad bailout could still pass. In the spirit of optimism though, I will note the following happy consequences and hope they endure.

It was a rebuke to the people who created the mess. A better Congressional leadership would have told the administration to not submit anything since Henry Paulson is entirely discredited. He is the same gentleman who insisted (via) over and over for the last eighteen months that we have hit the bottom, no bailout is necessary, the damage is contained. Any proposal from him should be presumed to be nonsense. Nouriel Roubini, on the other hand, clearly knows what he is talking about. Why couldn’t Pelosi and Reid have told the administration to spare us more heckuva job hackery and consulted with someone who actually appears to have a grasp of the situation? If they had done that, and Roubini turned in the same proposal – verbatim – that Paulson did I would have supported it. (He would not have, though.) It is called credibility. You gain it by being right over time, and lose it by being wrong. There is no reason to believe that any proposal originating in the White House will have even the barest levels of competence. Congressional leaders should have pronounced it dead on arrival when word of it leaked.

It was also a repudiation of the rushed and reactionary approach to legislation. Whether it was for the initial authorization for the Iraq war, or the Protect America Act, or various appropriations, the preferred method is to wait until some deadline is imminent and then charge in. It prevents Congress from going through complex issues in an orderly fashion and it largely cuts the public out of the loop. Laws passed as part of a proper deliberative process with adequate transparency to the public are blessed with the magical power of consensus. It means that even those who disagree with it vehemently do not contest its legitimacy. The bailout bill had all the earmarks of a boondoggle because we were not given the opportunity to scrutinize it and the normal legislative process was being hurried along at a sprint. We should not support such actions even if we agree with the underlying legislation.

Finally, it might give us the opportunity to dispel some fog and give us clarity, even if it is unpleasant. Ron Suskind wrote on page 125 of The Way of the World of a longtime clandestine agent afflicted by "the schizophrenia that comes from chasing ghosts." Our leaders have tried to frighten us over and over in the last eight years with apocalyptic visions, and many of us are tired of it. We no longer want to fear what is around every corner and lurking in every shadow, and we no longer want to jump every time a conniving politician says "boo". Some of us are ready to say, let the dread come; it is better than constantly worrying. If this latest Armageddon really does come to pass and the blind pig finally found an acorn, so be it. Maybe, as the President warns, this sucker really could go down. Speaking as a member of the sucker, Mr. President, I can assure you that we are made of sterner stuff than you suspect. We are stronger and more self-reliant than you seem to give us credit for. We know hard times have already begun and may get worse. We will adapt. If we need to we will carpool or ride bikes, eat out less, stretch the clothes an extra year, maybe plant a garden. We will do what we need to, and perhaps the hardship will have some good effects as well. Maybe we will become more solicitous of those around us, and see our neighbor not as a stranger or a competitor but as our fellow (wo)man. Maybe it will give us a better understanding that, yes, we really are all in this together. Maybe it will make us better people.

I could go on. I want to go on. But I’ll leave it at that.