The Blog

A Time for Grown-ups

8:11 PM, Sep 22, 2008 • By DEAN BARNETT
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Patrick Ruffini and I were colleagues at Townhall.com; he's one of the smartest young conservatives on the web. Thus, I found the following blog post he authored utterly dismaying. Here it is in full:

Republican incumbents in close races have the easiest vote of their lives coming up this week: No on the Bush-Pelosi Wall Street bailout.

God Himself couldn't have given rank-and-file Republicans a better opportunity to create political space between themselves and the Administration. That's why I want to see 40 Republican No votes in the Senate, and 150+ in the House. If a bailout is to pass, let it be with Democratic votes. Let this be the political establishment (Bush Republicans in the White House + Democrats in Congress) saddling the taxpayers with hundreds of billions in debt (more than the Iraq War, conjured up in a single weekend, and enabled by Pelosi, btw), while principled Republicans say "No" and go to the country with a stinging indictment of the majority in Congress.

This creates pressure on the "change" message. If this issue is made controversial, and Obama is not the first to make it an issue, how exactly is a Washington deal backed by Bush's Treasury Secretary "change?"

But for this to be actionable, it has to be controversial. So this can't be a few lonely voices like Coburn and DeMint. It needs to be the bulk of the Republican conference. In an ideal world, McCain opposes this because of all the Democratic add-ons and shows up to vote Nay while Obama punts.

History has shown us that "inevitable" "emergency" legislation like the Patriot Act or Sarbanes-Oxley is never more popular than on the day it is passed -- and this isn't all that popular to begin with. All the upside comes with voting against it.

A bailout may be inevitable, but so to can be the political benefit for Congressional Republicans if played correctly.

If you watched Fox News Sunday yesterday, you may have noticed that Republican John Kyl and Chuck Schumer were practically holding hands and belting out a few choruses of "Kumbaya," such was the spirit of bipartisanship that dominated the morning. Little wonder. The threat of a Great Depression redux has a way of focusing the mind of even the most eager partisan like New York's other senator.

I assume the senators had spent the previous few days much as I had. They probably spoke to a bunch of people on Wall Street. They realized that the economy was teetering on the brink of calamity. They knew that if promised government action didn't soothe Wall Street's panic, then partisan concerns would look very small. Moreover, the senators likely knew that if Wall Street perceived the way out of the financial crisis had become a political football, the panic could easily resume.

That fact still stands today. That's why you're seeing unusual things like John Conyers and Bill Kristol agreeing on some matters of import. And it's why you're seeing our congress members behaving in an unusually responsible fashion. No one wants to be responsible for creating 21st century Hoovervilles (although even in the event of a new Depression, Hoovervilles are unlikely. Besides, we could call them Obamavilles which would have a certain ring.)

But here's the fly in our presently delightful bipartisan ointment - the Paulson Plan has a sufficient number of flaws that unless it rockets through congress, it will eventually (and deservedly) crumble under its own weight. Think of it as a parallel situation to the McCain/Kennedy immigration bill from Spring '07. The authors of that bill knew that if it got carefully considered by either the public or congress, it would die a slow and painful death. So they tried to shove it down the body politic's throat. Their plan failed.

Similarly, the Paulson Plan because of its many well-documented weaknesses can't pass as is and will likely enter the political system. But here's the problem - congress simply can't punt on the matter like it did on immigration reform. Regardless of what awaits the Paulson Plan, Congress must act quickly to head off potential disaster. If the rescuing of our financial system becomes part of the workaday partisan wrangling, the odds of a decent plan emerging diminish. More disturbingly, the odds of no plan emerging increases dramatically.

All of the preceding is what makes Ruffini's essay so disquieting. Just as there are Republicans crassly calculating how they can leverage the current situation to their political advantage, there are obviously Democrats doing the same (although I'm not aware of any who have been so silly as to say so publicly). Fortunately, the grown-ups in both parties have controlled the situation. If the grown-ups decide this situation has become a political opportunity rather than a legitimate national emergency, we'll all have a problem - "problem" here being a mild euphemism for an economic disaster.

None of the foregoing means there aren't legitimate areas of difference that members of congress (and those of us who write about them) should hash out in the coming days. But anyone who comes to the party without a first priority of staving off panic and saving the credit markets should be turned away at the door.