The Iraq War, but This Time as Economic Pearl Harbor


I guess fighting one elective war isn't enough for the Bush administration. Or the Senate. Or the media.

But it's pretty clear that the White House, helped by a codependent Congress and media, has yet again manufactured a consensus for massive intervention. The last time they managed to pull this off, of course, the United States invaded Iraq. And that has worked out so well that they've decided to start a brand extension or spin-off series: Intervening massively into the economy. The bailout package as Bush Administration: Special Victims Unit.

Think about it and the parallels are disturbing: a high-ranking, respectable, above-the-fray cabinet member working the ropes to achieve bipartisan cooperation; a pliable Congress where appeals to patriotism always trump appeals to principle (sadly, those two things are almost always construed as oppositional); and a media that is fueling the fire (the dread MSM's role in spreading the Bush admin case for war has been pretty well-documented; in terms of the bailout, the most hysterical champions for intervention have been in the print and TV press). Time magazine's next cover story, I learned watching Morning Joe this AM on MSNBC, is actually an essay on "The New Hard Times" and compares our current day to those of The Great Depression. Ominous parallel or coincidence: In the Depression, people formed lines for free soup; today, people form lines to…buy iPhones?

Arguably what is stunning about last night's Senate vote is not that it happened but that it took so long to add enough "sweeteners" to put free-market devotees into an ideological diabetic coma. The bailout-stimulus-Christmas-in-October-bill that just passed the Senate should not be confused with thoughtful legislation. It's larded with junk designed to convince Main Street that it too will share in the welfare being doled out to Wall Street Masters of the Universe. The need for the bailout has yet to be demonstrated. The efficacy of the proposed plan has yet to be demonstrated. Here's hoping that the House of Representatives, that great holding pen for would-be senators and future criminals, keeps it spine and still votes no. At the same time, this might be a good time to declare citizenship in another country.

One other stray thought: The predicate for action now has been incessant comparisons, despite all available evidence, to The Great Depression, a moment where the American (and world) economy contracted over a period of years. Screw the fact that the U.S. economy, by all the normal indicators that get trotted out on a quarterly basis, is doing OK, if not quite good.

In my memory, the last time this happened with such intensity was, er, in 1992, during the closing months of an presidential election cycle where a vulnerable Republican candidate was facing a charismatic Democratic one who kept harping on how rotten the economy was. Things are different now: The outgoing GOP president is the central fearmongerer (or perhaps, given Bush's intensity on the topic, fearmongererer) in this drama, but we shouldn't forget that the election is an essential backdrop for what is happening. This is, coff coff, a particularly political season, and we should all look especially askance at the hurry-up offense coming out of the White House, the Congress, and the media. Bush is desperate for a legacy that doesn't involve quagmires and broken bodies; Congress is trying to give voters some goodies; both McCain and Obama want to show that they can lead, dammit, and please all the people all the time. And the press is desperate for copy and for change.