Sunday, September 28, 2008

The bailout: Big crisis, small thinking

As the $700 billion bailout (such a terrible word to sum up the crisis this country is in) gets parsed into legislation, Americans are pausing to wonder not only whether the financial crisis will be fixed, but where are a nation -- as a confident nation that's always been optimistically poised toward the future. Except recently.

Peggy Noonan picks up on that unique but now Xerox shadow of our national characteristic:

"If nothing else, this [crisis] means we must now have our fights over big issues, issues of real consequence that are pertinent to the moment we're in. We shouldn't be fighting and hitting each other over the head over little things, stupid things, needlessly chafing ones."

In retrospect, it is shocking that we didn't use the dark time of 9/11 to light more candles. Properly, we committed ourselves to creating a country that would be safe from terrorists. But we didn't commit ourselves to building an America that would be stronger in other ways. We didn't make a long-term investment in people and physical assets -- the bulwark against any enemy, known or unknown. Instead, Washington invested in deregulation. The result was an army of mediocrities with MBAs getting their green belts as mini-Masters of the Universe on Wall Street. Now most of the Masters, mini and major (excluding those of the hedge funds in Greenwich, Conn., as Tom Wolfe points out), have fallen. But who will succeed them to lead the rebuilding of America?

The bailout -- that terrible, here's-your-crutch word again -- proposes to extricate us from the mess of underwater securities -- but where will it take us? The wheels of credit will be greased again, but where will the credit go, particularly in the sphere of public benefit?

It's amazing to me that most of the participants in the bailout -- Democrat and Republican alike -- don't see this moment as a defining one -- not just for Wall Street, or Main Street, but for America as a nation and people.

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