Thank You America: Democracy and the Bailout

I’m so excited that Congress rejected the Wall Street bailout. I was kinda stunned watching the whole thing as it was going on.

It seemed surreal. The Bush administration and the mainstream media kept tossing around the word “crisis.” This reminded me of the fog in which the Patriot Act was passed. The language these guys were using … it was as if the world would fall off a cliff if the bill didn’t pass.

But America was speaking up. Regular people from the left, right, and center were sickened by the idea that we would be paying to bail out these fat cats who have been playing fast and loose with our economy.

There was this great moment for me. I was watching Wolf Blitzer on CNN (the situation had actually gotten me off of ESPN). Wolf and his analysts were all talking about why Congress had failed to pass the bill. It was implicit, and sometimes explicit, in everything they said that the bill should have passed. The mainstream media has been sipping the Washington/Wall Street Kool-Aid. But Main Street just isn’t buying it.

At the end of Blitzer’s show (The Situation Room), he spoke briefly with Lou Dobbs to introduce Dobbs as the next show. Dobbs was grinning ear to ear, joyous over the victory. Blitzer seemed stunned, as if he had no idea Dobbs was opposed to the bailout and couldn’t understand how anyone would oppose it.

Now I don’t like Lou Dobbs. His anti-immigration, anti-free-trade attitudes are part of what’s wrong with our economy. But he gets the common man. He knew regular people would have a problem writing a blank check to Wall Street. He played to the same attitudes. In this case I had to agree with him.

Two things from Blitzer’s show stood out to me. First, one of the talking heads discussed an analysis of the congressional vote. Congressmen who were facing a tough reelection fight (or who had faced tough ones in the recent past) voted against the bill. Members who were not facing a tough race (and who had not faced one in a while) voted for it.

Locally we have a good example of this. McNulty, who is retiring, voted with the Washington elite and for the bill. He doesn’t have to worry about the voters. Meanwhile, Kirsten Gillibrand is facing a tough battle. Her district is 2-1 Republican and Sandy Treadwell has plenty of money. And unlike John Sweeney, he has no frat-party/wife-beating/DWI background holding him back. Gillibrand voted against the bill.

So in other words, members of Congress who are worried about what the voters think voted no. That means Democracy worked! And that’s why the Washington/Wall-Street elite are worried. America woke up.

The other thing from Blitzer’s show was a quote from one man on the street. Not sure this is dead on, but: “The same guys who sold us a bottle of snake oil are telling us they can fix the problems if we just buy another bottle.”

That really nails it. We can’t expect Bush to resign over this “crisis.” But it’s time for other heads to roll. Paulson and Bernanke should resign. These idiots engaged in a fear-mongering campaign to intimidate America into voting for a really bad plan. And they lost.

This is a Democracy, and America just said no to your plan. You are the ones who got us into this mess. You’re not the ones to get us out. We don’t trust a gajillionaire investment banker (Paulson) who tells us we’ve got to bail out his old buddies on Wall Street by giving him a check for $700 billion to do with as he pleases. How about you get 100 of your fat cat buddies together and you guys can bail out Wall Street?

My own take on this has little to do with Wall Street. Washington is the real problem. It’s the spending. You want to spend $700B? Where’s the money coming from? Every time the Washington elite wants to spend an outrageous chunk of our money, they use the word crisis.

The 9/11 “crisis” cost us a trillion dollars in endless wars. We’re wasting hundreds of billions on the immigration crisis and the drug crisis. Then you’ve got your education crisis. All of these crises keep going. And of course we have the global climate crisis. I’m sure the Washington elite will find ways to spend a trillion more of our money on that one.

If your “crisis” has been going on for a long time, and if it has no foreseeable end, then it’s not a crisis. It’s a problem. Crisis decision making leads to bad decisions. These are long-term problems. We should think about the best way to deal with them.

The question every voter should ask every politician is this:

You want to spend $X Billion on your policy agenda. What spending are you willing to cut in order to fund this?

I’ve seen the opposite side of this problem as a candidate (and now as an elected official on the Guilderland Town Board). Many voters, when meeting a candidate, tell the candidate what they want money spent on. Few voters tell the candidate where to cut spending, or ask the candidate where he/she would cut.

The other day I was talking to a friend in Guilderland about playground equipment. I hope to get some new equipment for our main park. My friend mentioned the need for new equipment in one of our smaller parks. I asked her where we should get the money. Should we raise your taxes? She didn’t like that idea. How about eliminating a police officer position (roughly 1/3 of the town budget). She didn’t like that either.

The answers are tougher politically at the local level, but at the federal level there is at least one easy answer. Bringing the troops home from Europe, Japan and South Korea is politically popular. The Washington elite loves keeping troops overseas. I have no idea why and I don’t think they even know why they like it. But it’s an easy sell to regular people. We spend hundreds of billions a year defending rich countries who don’t even want us there.

I read that the US navy is currently shadowing a ship off Somalia. The ship, carrying Russian military equipment, was taken over by pirates. So we’re watching them. I guess we’re trying to make sure the equipment doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.

But the Russians are the bad guys, remember? The weapons are already in the wrong hands. Why are we protecting a Russian arms shipment?

How about we bring our troops home and defend our borders? There are two key benefits to this approach. First, the rest of the world would have less reason to hate us if we weren’t mucking around in their countries. So terrorists would be less motivated to attack us. Second, if we have our best troops at home, we will be more ready to deal with another 9/11 situation if it does come up. 9/11 blindsided us here because we had no military readiness for that situation. And we still don’t.

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