Star Wars isn't the only motion picture franchise to roll out an unwelcome sequel this month. Georgey and the Con Squad are back on the big screen, too: Every time we think we're out, they pull us back in!
If Bailout! The Motion Picture gets green-lighted by Congress, the Bush years will be book-ended by made-for-TV crises so awe-inspiring, the Constitution hasn't got a chance. It's a double feature: two disaster movies for the price of one disastrous presidency.
In case anyone forgot what it felt like the first time around, here's a little action to conjure up the spirit of the Patriot Act. The Bailout, drawn up in private by the Administration over several weeks, is being sold as the only way to deal with extreme crisis -- sound familiar? Roll Call described it rather cinematically in a post on its Web site this morning:
The White House today is drumming up extraordinary pressure on Congress to approve its plan to enact a $700 billion mortgage bailout fund, suggesting the markets cannot wait much longer and dispatching Vice President Cheney and other top officials up Pennsylvania Avenue to jawbone lawmakers.
Cheney, White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and presidential adviser Ed Gillespie are meeting this morning with House Republican conservatives, where a rebellion is brewing against the size and questionable free market credentials of the administration proposal.
Cheney will later gather with GOP Senators at the regular Tuesday lunch. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, who collaborated in drawing up the proposal, are testifying this morning on Capitol Hill in an effort to defend their handiwork.
But Bush himself continues to do little to explain his plan, and he has refused to be questioned about it.
All the players are in place: silent, petulant Bush demanding not to be questioned because he's the Decider; Dick Cheney is the Enforcer, twisting senators' arms and breathing his brimstone in their faces (any time you see "jawbone" used as a verb, you know Cheney must be in the vicinity); an appointee of the executive testifying to the need for a radical consolidation of power in one agency, a la Ashcroft 2001. As I wrote yesterday, Patriot Act redux.
But let's be real: Bush has a 19 percent approval rating. Everyone in the country has already seen this movie; did the paying customers like the plot twists and surprise ending? About as much as they dig a roach in the popcorn. There is less than no reason why those cast as the original patsies, the media and Congress, need to go along this time. Most importantly, there's an obvious better way.
No matter how many sub-plots and how much heavy music and gory special F(O)X the Administration packs into this tired flick, there really is only one central plot. Stay focused, everyone -- it's the mortgage crisis. The back story is simple, really: human greed in the banking biz goes unchecked for years, and bad loans become the norm. Republicans, hellbent on proving that markets must be unfettered and free as the wind, deregulate past the point of logic, sanity, decency and sense. There's the signpost up ahead: you've entered into the Ideology Zone -- a dangerous place with slippery slopes and scary monsters, where the only thing that can save you is handing $700 billion to a banker with ... you guessed it, no regulation!
The point is, it was bad mortgage debt that got the country into this mess, and while a welfare check for the banks may help ease their immediate burden, at the end of the day, the bad debt will remain. That means that Henry Paulson's countrymen and women will be in danger of losing their homes and wandering the landscape in a dystopic, post-modern remix of the Dust Bowl refugeeism of the 1930s. Ethically wrong, and also, surprise surprise, bad for the banks. Wait -- maybe we are all in this together! But Paulson and his cronies -- well, shoot, Pa, they ain't buyin' it!
This is the point in the movie where the soundtrack swells and the voice of Bob Dylan rasps out:
"They say that patriotism is the last refuge
to which a scoundrel clings.
Steal a little and they throw you in jail,
steal a lot and they make you king..."
The only way this movie has a happy ending is if we flip the script and make the homeowners in danger of foreclosure on those rotten loans our protagonists. $700 billion is a big budget blockbuster. It should be able to buy a lot of restructuring, debt write-off, and time. It will also stabilize the banks more surely than the golden parachutes and one-time infusions of cash that Paulson and the Bushies want to go down fighting for.
The Democrats need to not settle for tacking on a few handouts for homeowners and a high cap on CEO compensation. That would be, say it with me people, like putting lipstick on a pig. No, the Democrats need to realize that this is the moment around which all their electoral aspirations can coalesce. This is the moment when they can reclaim populism from the Republicans. If they dig in their heels and insist on a fundamental restructuring of the focus of this plan, they will make the case that they are the party of Americanism, the Republicans are the Socialists. No? Look at what George Will had to say today:
The political left always aims to expand the permeation of economic life by politics. Today, the efficient means to that end is government control of capital. So, is not McCain's party now conducting the most leftist administration in American history? The New Deal never acted so precipitously on such a scale.
Now that's a plot twist... And it leaves us with the next questioning line of Bob Dylan's soundtrack tune, one which the MSM, the Democratic Congress, and indeed every one of us who has lived through this interminable, hellish movie should be asking of ourselves:
"Just how much abuse will you be able to take?
Well, there's no way to tell by that first kiss..."
Pete Cenedella's beat is kids and politics, mostly, but this Bailout has him riled. He's getting in the ground game, with a rally and picnic this weekend and a trip to PA to canvass next weekend. Check Obama's site for the many opportunities to help win this thing. If you're in the vicinity this weekend, come to the Obama Family Picnic in deHart Park in Maplewood, NJ Sunday 9/28 from 3-6pm. Kids; bands, voter registration, volunteer opportunities, local Democratic speakers, and the whole line of If Kids Could Vote tees and onesies available too (minimum 10 percent of profits donated to DNC and/or Barry-O for Prez).