Of Wannabe Sith Lords and Maverick Politicians

A FRIEND recently sent me an email that expressed his frustration with the bailout plan:

"I was talking with a businessman on Sunday (Ventura way), and he said that if there was no bailout there would be a repeat of the depression," my friend wrote me. "NO THANKS!"

No one can know for sure if the bailout package would have helped. But the chances are high. As Fed Chairman (Great Depression scholar) Ben Bernanke knows too well, the Great Depression occurred because Herbert Hoover's administration decided to tighten credit at the exact time they should have loosened it.

Back then, President Hoover stuck to his guns. He believed that government intervention is bad. Let the free market work, he said. Well, it does. Until it doesn't anymore.

NEWT GINGRICH'S new Elite Squad of House Republicans (66% of the House of Representatives) staged a coup yesterday that shut down the bailout legislation - even as he publicly supported it. And by doing that, they may have just pushed the nation out of proverbial frying pan and into the fires of Hell.

Economic hell, that is.

Run, Republicans and Democrats who don't intend to vote for some form of a bailout bill. Run fast. Go back to your hidey-holes and hide your teensy, weensy scrotums from your constituents. Because when people finally wrap their heads around what your lack of action has done to our economy, you'd better have a jock strap made of titanium.

THERE WILL BE a bailout -- Mr. Bush is finally right about something. Fortunately, Americans like compromise. The leaders of the two parties will work out something they can all live with. Right now, the Senate is trying to create a bill that will force the House to approve it. Afterwards, they'll figure out a way to explain the actions to the American people. Here's why.

1) The Republican leaders know that if they keep stalling, their actions will ensure that the Democrats run the government for the next 50 years again. Not good for them.

2) The Democrats are desperate to fix things because they're trying to limit the fallout - because it's likely they'll get blamed. Not good for them.

3) Mr. Bush is desperate not to be re-christened as President Hoover II. It's the only presidential name dirtier than his, right now. Really bad for him.

Yep. Congress will pass this bill. Because most congressmen and senators have begun to figure out that the result of NOT passing this bill is as predictable as sundown on a bright, shiny day.

They also know that if they don't pass it, the nation will lapse into an economic coma. By the end of October, credit will have frozen as solid as the Thames River in 1635 during the Little Ice Age, normal businesses won't have enough money in the bank to pay people's paychecks, and people's retirement plans will have shriveled to half the current size.

That's not the kind of October Surprise the Republican Party aimed to provide Mr. McCain. Last time I checked, people LIKE to get paid.

THIS PAST FRIDAY, Mr. McCain tried to step in and show the nation that he could lead Bush's economic team in solving the problem. He got the credit, all right. Shortly after he arrived, Congress voted against the bailout plan, and Wall Street flushed 777 points of the Dow swirling down the cybertoilet. It felt like 1929, suddenly.

Mr. McCain also didn't realize until too late that he was nowhere close to being in charge. The real Sith Lord in charge of the House Republicans is Mr. Gingrich. Mr. Gingrich must have taken a page from his old playbook - he forgot that in 1995 when he played "Chicken" with the Oval Office, he lost. Perhaps he thinks that an unpopular Republican President will be easier to beat.

THE ANGER OF the American taxpayer is understandable. We're having a hard enough time balancing our checkbooks and paying our credit card bills. We want things to be simple, and they're not.

Now pay attention, Honorable Members of the Current Congress.

Now is a time to show that you can actually lead. What does this mean? It means that you as a leader might have to do something you believe in that will cost you in the polls - something based on your principles of putting people first, rather than casting your vote based on the latest poll.

Because when the American people finally get it - when they finally realize what you've done - those polls are going to change.

Mr. McCain can't even figure out how many homes he has - much less help me keep my apartment. He doesn't understand the economy any better than Joe Blow who lives down the street. And no one wants Mr. Blow operating on the bailout bill.

I REALLY DO get the fact that these House Republicans and Democrats voted out of fear. I do.

"The calls to the House offices were reportedly 30-1 against the bailout," my good friend Marc Seltzer wrote to me. "Sounds like average Americans had no idea who the rescue helps and what it does. They think it helps wealthy investment banks stay in business. This is a failure of communication from the top down."

"Some may have done it because they didn't understand," Mr. Seltzer continued. "Some on free market principles and most probably because their constituents were calling and saying they were angry and didn't like the bailout."

I agree with my friend. So what if you're a congressman or senator and you'd like to actually begin contributing to a solution. What could you do?

Ask yourself this question: how could this bailout put people first? That's a good question. You know you're eventually going to vote for this bill in order to save the country from economic disaster. So why not have a reason why you actually voted?

How about this: "I fought to make the bailout bill work for you, Mr. and Mrs. Voter."

HERE'S ANOTHER IDEA: please deal with the root mortgage problem we're facing - because hundreds of thousands of families are about to lose their homes. Think about it. Those homes will stand around sucking all the air out of the real estate market.

Surely the leadership of both parties can solve that. If they can't allow judges to change the terms of a primary mortgage (for fear of a bankruptcy rush - I get it), then they could, uhm - well, I'm sure another solution will occur to you if you choose to look for it.

Address that problem fairly, and you'll have the votes you need come November, Congressman.

It's that simple.

BY THE WAY, IN case you're worried about the $700 billion it's going to cost for the rescue plan, we're way past that.

With the bailout plan, the chances were good that the government (that would be us) would actually DOUBLE the amount of their investment (buying up mortgage securities) because the US Treasury has deep pockets and can afford to wait to sell until those securities regain their value.

I am convinced that we would have lost nothing had we gone ahead with the bailout plan - in fact, many economists thought that the US Treasury would make a boatload of money. But we didn't get that plan. And 1.2 TRILLION dollars disappeared. That's not speculation - it's fact.

That means Mr. Blow and his wife Sue (and a lot of other people who don't have seven homes to fall back on) lost in a few hours what it took them the last eight years to grow in their retirement plans. That means they ain't going to retire when they thought they would.


What President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (a Democrat) did to change all of our lives for the better and create a middle class was to integrate the American economy with the world economy.

This means that if our economy goes down, other countries will face the same crisis. As they crash and burn, it becomes harder for our economy to restart. Then a lot of people lose their jobs. Then the world begins to starve. Desperate for something to get people's minds off a World Depression, governments will begin to look outward. So comes the rise of even greater nationalism .... Is this sounding a bit familiar?

The point is this: we're all in this together. If China's having problems, so are we. If Europe's in recession, we're all in trouble. And perhaps we should actually treat Russia with respect, rather than ignoring them until they invade Georgia.

This means we need to work together. We can't be selfish. The cost will be too great.

MOVIES AND STORIES love the maverick, because they're interesting. So does the press. But the problem is - all that drama is counterproductive. Mr. McCain's most recent stunt only revealed that he will do whatever it takes to get the story and the attention. It doesn't show that he can get anything done.

Maybe this is EXACTLY the problem we've face: representatives of the people who think they're Gary Cooper in High Noon rather than Jimmy Stewart in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

Mr. Cooper's character is self-righteous, and he can't govern. Mr. Stewart's character is ultimately humble enough to realize that it isn't about him and his precious principles - it's about getting the job done.

One of America's unsung heroes is President Jerry Ford. He made a tough decision that he knew would kill his chances to win the next election: he pardoned President Richard Nixon. But he did it because he knew it was best for the nation.

I wish we had more men like him leading Congress today.