Friday, September 26, 2008

It's the economy, stupid: Republicans cauc it up

I sail by stubborn stars, let rocks take heed,
and should I sink . . . then sinking be my creed!

I've always enjoyed those lines by Kenneth Leslie, quoted in a book by Canadian poet Milton Acorn, I've Tasted My Blood. I like stubbornness, even obstinacy on occasion. "Damn the consequences, I'm doing what's right!" can be an admirable and honourable stance, not to mention a tactical display of determination that can sow fear and confusion among the enemy. ("He won't listen to reason! He won't compromise!")

But at some point this degenerates into sheer egoism and shallow ideological flailing. It is neither admirable nor honourable to allow oneself to be paralyzed by principle when the welfare of millions of ordinary people depends upon your next move. But that's just what Republican ideologues have been up to in Congress over the past day or so.

The proposed $700 billion bailout of a foundering economy is a rare exercise in pragmatism from a US President not known for it. Of course, this is not his own plan--he has an army of experts advising him--but his buy-in was crucial. Yes, this is state intervention, and yes, one can cynically argue as one Globe and Mail correspondent did today, that it's socialism for the rich and private enterprise for the poor. But it's hard to imagine
--one might have thought right across the political spectrum--a workable alternative.

CEOs who reign incompetently traditionally make their way to the nearest window of opportunity and exit with golden parachutes.
A top advisor to John McCain, Carly Fiorina, escaped with a paltry $42 million in 2005 as her company, Hewlett-Packard, was forced to lay off 20,000 employees. (McCain supported her in classic knee-jerk fashion, while confessing ignorance about her exit gift.)

Grab a stiff drink (I know it's early in the day) and check out some of the salaries and perks that the new ruling class is hauling in, regardless of performance. Crisis? What crisis?
The bail-out package, if it gets through Congress, may not and certainly should not include this kind of reward for incompetence, whether it's exit plunder or on-going stockholder-robbery.

McCain is not covering himself with glory, meanwhile. He trooped off to Washington to be the nation's saviour after "suspending" his campaign. But when the Republican caucus balked at the proposal, he decided--to take no stand at all! How...presidential.

As reported in the New York Times, Republicans don't want anything that smacks of "socialism." Heavens, no: at a time of crisis, you don't want your government to govern, after all--better they should just take their interventionist hands off the tiller and let the ship of state plough right into the shoals.

Of course, it might simply be crass politics at work, suggests the Globe and Mail:

Moderate Republicans and Democrats seemed to have agreed on a pact with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. But the hasty return to Washington of Mr. McCain, who said he was suspending his presidential campaign to help deal with the crisis, seems to have muddled the deal. Right-wing Republicans apparently rallied to block, or at least delay, the process, perhaps giving Mr. McCain a chance to broker a new agreement.

Not to mention to duck tonight's presidential debate, claiming that he's saving the country instead. The fate of that debate is certainly now in doubt. McCain has no problem bugging out of previous commitments, as we've seen recently. Never mind--if he doesn't show in Oxford, Mississippi this evening, you might be able to catch him on Letterman.

H/t Jerad Gallinger

UPDATE: The debate is on.

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