Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A fine example of government inertia at its worst

There are plenty things on my mind. The question is where to start.

I'm furious with the Republicans (aren't I always?) for stalling this financial reform bill.

They just can't seem to get it into their heads that they lost the last election, which means that American people -- despite everything they claim -- rejected their approach to government. Should the people this November change that, and put them back in charge (something that very well could happen), then fine. They will have won the right to push their agenda forward.

Until that happens, though, I wish they'd stop acting as if we all made a colossal mistake in November of 2008, and would at least attempt to add their input into some of the very necessary things this government has to accomplish.

I guess this is my roundabout way of approaching the whole topic of government inertia.

I'll be 57 years old in August, and while I'd probably consider myself more of a liberal than a conservative, there's a very strong part of me that's always trusted the process. Even during the Bush II years, when I was adamantly opposed to much of what he tried to do, I always figured that common sense would win out in the end ... and that even among conservatives, there were people with enough brains to remove the most radical elements from the proposals Congress had to consider.

I think, sometimes, people get the wrong idea of how the process works. I also think they they're wrong about the value -- or lack of value, in their eyes -- of having a healthy mix of all ideological factions in the same ring, throwing broadsides at each other.

That is healthy. The problem comes not from the ideological diversity, but in the homogenization of viewpoints. What frightens me, for example, isn't the fact that there are Republicans (or Democrats when the shoe is on the other foot) who will fight the majority tooth and nail on all matters simple or complicated. What scares me is the fact that, on just about every issue these days, there's no budge. This would indicate that the people we've elected to represent our interests in Washington aren't doing that as much as they're doing their party's private bidding.

And that is just wrong. And it's wrong even if you agree, in principal, with the agenda that is being advanced; or if you disagree with it.

I doubt there's an intelligent soul among us who would disagree with the need for some sort of health reform. Or that there's a need -- especially after 2008 -- for better oversight of the financial industry.

We have a Congress of over 500 people, and while it's an unwieldy collection sometimes (especially in the House), it's more than enough people to form a solid consensus on what should be done about some of our problems. Only right now, there is no consensus. There are only two basic blocs -- Democrat and Republican -- and, with the occasional exception, neither moves an inch toward the other side.

Of the two, the Democrats seem to show more give. There seems to be wider range of political diversity there. Some Democrats are more conservative.

And you know what? That's fine. I'm not sure I'd want a Congress where all 535 members felt the same way ... regardless of what way was. You need both ends of the spectrum represented in a healthy manner. You even need the radicals on both sides ... the zealots ... the wingnuts ... because most of the time, they define the parameters of the debate.

But the answer has to come closer to the middle, because, believe it or not, that's where most Americans reside. I think if you were to examine most intelligent people (and not just the ones who squawk on talk radio shows or spew invective on political blogs), they would -- even if grudgingly -- admit that there are no uniform solutions to the issues that face us.

Some solutions do require an approach that would fall under the definition of liberal. Others require a more hard-line stance. It all depends on what you're talking about.

We don't have that insight today in Washington. We have a one-size-fits-all mindset, and I don't know if that's more to do with the political parties' identification of, and constantly playing to, their "bases;" or whether it's the fact that we've made it so difficult for normal, intelligent people to run for office that all we have left are power-starved politicians who allow themselves to be bought and sold by the highest bidders.

Perhaps it's a little of both.

Robin Williams once said that all politicians should be forced to wear uniforms like NASCAR drivers, with identification patches signifying all their contributors. Then, he said, perhaps we'd understand why often simple things require so much consternation and acrimony down there.

All I know is that the health care debate, and now this burgeoning brouhaha over financial reform, underscores all that's wrong with our system.

I have to be honest. I didn't go on line and find the health care bill, in its final form, that has all 2,000 or so pages intact and in order. I don't have a real good understanding of exactly what's in there, and where it all could lead. I trusted the system to come up with the best bill it could ... and would have lived with whatever came out of it.

I also don't think I'm alone. I doubt anyone really knows every aspect of this bill. Most of what we saw, or heard, on the subject was filtered through the eyes of whoever it was that laid it out, and it all depended on the person, or group's, ultimate objective in presenting the information.

In other words, nothing -- nothing -- is pure and detached when it comes to this stuff. Every bit of writing -- including this writing -- has its own spin.

If someone like Sarah Palin, for example, starts screaming about death panels, then unless you're so married to her way of thinking that you think she's God, you owe it to yourself (not to mention me and millions of others) to take her rantings with the appropriate grain of salt, and go hunting around for someone on the other side whose opinion is just as deranged so you can have some kind of a balance.

The health care debate never got that far. The Republicans, I'm sure, understand the need to make some sense out of the way we provide health care coverage in the United States. What they didn't want, however, is to take part in anything that could result in a Barack Obama victory, because moving even a fraction of his agenda forward would hurt them this November.

There was enough of a muddle with health care -- as I said, I don't know, and no one knows, really, the full extent of what's in there -- that honest debate over it could have taken a year. The Democrats, on the other hand, might have tried to go a little to fast with it, and that certainly added to the acrimony. If I were Obama (and believe me, I'm glad I'm not!) I might have tried to get a few easy things done first and built up a little bit of a cachet before tackling this. He certainly expended quite a bit of political capitol on it, and it remains to be seen how this will affect anything he wants to accomplish.

But something tells me the GOP is badly (and foolishly) overplaying its hand on the financial reforms package. The Republicans tried to portray themselves as the part of common sense with health care, and I think they had more of a case there. I don't think they have as strong a case with this bill.

It seems to me, based on my cursory knowledge of it, that the president wants to ensure that for major companies that fail majorly, there's an orderly way to take them into insolvency so as to not cripple the economy, which is what happened in 2008. This is the third of the bill's three major components (the other two involving stronger government oversight of the firms; and requirement of those firms to hold onto more capitol to reduce their debt).

The Republicans aren't exactly clear about what they oppose. I makes sense that the government should monitor these companies. They employ millions, and have more millions of dollars in their hands. And for a group of people who just hate the idea of spending money, you'd think they'd be all for any provision that requires speculative industries to hold onto their money.

So it must be the third component -- the one in which the government can seize failing businesses and run them until they've exhausted themselves. Now, this makes sense to me, but I'm just a sportswriter from Boston.

I look at it this way: If I'm standing at the top of a precipice, looking straight down, and I slip, God help me. There's nothing to stop me. I'm dead.

If the mountainside is sloped, even a little, I have a better shot. The more it slopes, my odds get better.

So, if the U.S. government had the authority, for example, to take over Bear Stearns, or to threaten a takeover of AIG, for the sole purposes of selling off its components and liquidating it, then perhaps this free fall we experienced in 2008 wouldn't have been as severe as it was. Think back to 2008. There was very, very real panic.

The Republicans will cry socialism, but they always do. Anything they don't agree with immediately becomes branded as socialist. But even if it leans in that direction, it would be a good idea if people read a little history and learned about how, and why, many of those old European oligarchies turned to socialism. Suffice it to say, if those old European oligarchies weren't blatantly exploiting people who weren't in the ruling class, there would never have been a need, or even a fertile ground, for the spread of socialism. Those who revolted against these oligarchies and established socialist governments, did so after years of inequities and injustices.

And it's an important thing to remember. I'm convinced the capitalist system is like a car ... it requires fine tuning constantly. If you let it go along, without any care or oversight, it becomes burdened with dead weight, and it becomes much to much an instrument of predatory people who would gladly exploit the weaker, and less tuned in, among us.

Capitalism requires a certain amount of initiative. But too much of it, and too much unregulated free enterprise, protects bullies and predators and victimizes people who don't necessarily have the aptitude when it comes to money matters.

So once in a while, the government has to step in and make sure that the people least equipped to deal with the enormous fallout of an AIG collapse aren't thrown overboard. That is not socialism.

I think the Republicans are wrong about this. I really do. They need to step up, work with the majority party on this, and put a bill together. If they don't, and they allow this to drag on through the fall (which is obviously their intent), they might be surprised at how people react.

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