Outraged Partners In Crime
When I got up this morning, I didn’t feel that I had anything to add to several days of outraged rhetoric about the bonuses being doled out to AIG employees. Outrage is absolutely the right word, but nobody should be able to express outrage if they were the major contributor to the criminal attitude that led to this whole mess. The loudest foamy-mouthed criticism seems to be coming from Republicans in Congress. They justify their right to scream at the top of their lungs by sloughing off their own blame in the mess, and choosing to blame the whole thing on the Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac debacle that happened in the early Bush years.
Now, I will be the first to admit that in their attempt to assist the middle and poor working classes of our nation to enjoy the fruits of home ownership, perhaps the Democrats in Congress pushed a little too hard to save the aforementioned programs. However, within two years of taking office, President George W. Bush had a Republican Congress and would have been perfectly capable of reversing the course the previous Congress kept him on. But he did NOTHING! And his Republican colleagues in Congress – the same group who burnt the midnight oil keeping Terri Schiavo alive – also did NOTHING! Instead, they lived their dream of the free enterprise system taking care of each and every one of us, thus unleashing it upon an unsuspecting public.
Today on Morning Joe, CNBC’s Maria Bartiroma stated that the government regulators who could have stopped the AIG mess before it got to this point “were asleep at the wheel.” The oversight mechanisms of the Federal Government that were placed there to regulate the insurance and banking/investment businesses, had been disabled by a President and Congress that followed the philosophy of their hero, Ronald Reagan, who stated, “Government is not the solution; it is the problem.” And in their own reverse way, the Republicans proved that adage to be correct. Under the Republican watch, the Federal Government’s lack of oversight and enforcement of its own regulations fed the greedy grab made by Wall Street that has now crippled the World Economy.
Of course, today’s calamity is just the last in a long string of events that were first exposed by the sad sights that came from the streets of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. It was the first time that the American People were informed by the news media of the level to which their government had been stripped down. The indelible image of President Bush verbally patting the back of his FEMA director and saying, “You’re doin’ a heck of a job, Brownie,” is iconically burned into the collective mind of our Nation. I think what most people still didn’t get at that moment, was that the Republicans who ran our government had such a reckless disregard for the importance of government that they had staffed much of the government with similar political-payoff appointees who weren’t up to the job. Not only were the people over at FEMA and Homeland Security asleep on the job, the same was true over at the SEC and Treasury Department.
This goes to the heart of the real difference between Republican philosophy of government as opposed to Democratic philosophy of government. Despite the burgeoning governments that recent Republican Presidents have presided over, the underlying belief of Republicans is that government should be small and unobtrusive. Of course, of late, in their need for religious conservative voters, they have become advocates for government intervention into the bedroom behavior of the citizens of the US. And you can also add to the lack of adherence to their own principles, their need to protect American oil interests around the globe to the point of spending huge amounts of money on defense – or is that military offense? Whichever, you get the point.
The Democratic Party has a very different view of what government should do. They feel that government should be there to keep the weak and poor from falling through the inevitable cracks that form in a capitalist system. They also believe that government should protect the average Joe from the excessive greed that can develop at the top of the financial and corporate worlds by regulating them. Now, the very idea of regulating business in any way is anathema to Republicans and is quickly labeled Socialism. The Democrats also believe in leveling the playing field for the working man in order to keep business interests from taking advantage of their superior strength at the bargaining table. The Republicans, on the other hand, do what they can to “bust” the unions whenever possible to keep the tabletop firmly tilted toward big business.
Today’s headlines bring a great deal of clarity to this concept of who is on whose side. During the Bush Administration’s dominion, when an insurance giant and big banks came to Washington with their hands out, they were given what they asked for. Secretary of the Treasury Paulsen–I’ll call him Chicken Little–screamed, “The sky is falling. And we don’t have time for you pesky congressmen to put a bunch of oversight into the bailout package.” Now, those crafty Republicans “hid” behind the Democrats on Capitol Hill who were afraid that they would be blamed for the collapse of the economy if they didn’t respond to Chicken Little’s hostage threat. Suddenly the pro-business party, the Republicans, were against doing anything. But they knew that their Democratic colleagues would rescue them from their own rhetoric and help the Republican President and his treasury secretary bail the banks out with practically no strings attached.
A few weeks later the automakers came before Congress with much the same problem. The Republicans immediately sprang into action, denouncing the evil autoworkers and their union as the sole reason for Detroit’s problem. The Big 3 automakers were not given money, they were loaned money, but in exchange for the loan, the evil autoworkers and their union were going to have to give up their latest collective bargaining agreement. The Republicans got exactly what they had wanted all along, a swipe at the autoworkers union. The regular blue collar worker in Detroit was blackmailed with the possibility of losing his/her job if they didn’t take a hit on their personal household budgets.
Now we’re being told that when it comes to the employees of big insurance and big banks that their workers are protected by the contract-is-a-contract rule. We can’t force AIG to refuse to give all that bonus money to their workers who crashed the economy, and we can’t force the workers themselves to give up said bonuses we are told. And let it not be overlooked that the base salary of those privileged bonus takers with AIG is far above the wage being paid to those autoworkers, who Republicans brand as highway robbers.
Soooooooo, there’s your outrage. Autoworkers, “NO!” Robber bankers, “YES!” But the screaming cries of Republicans, like Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who called for the AIG crowd to commit suicide yesterday, fall deafly on my ears. What I’m still not hearing is the Republicans coming forward, as Senator Grassley put it, and taking that deep bow while saying, “We’re sorry for the big mess we led the country into by our neglect of government regulations and laws on our watch.” I will not call for them to commit seppuku because human life appears to be more important to me than the “pro-life” Senator Grassley. But in all the din of Republican outrage against AIG, I submit, that some good old-fashioned oversight by the Republicans when they had the reins of power could have saved us all from a big problem.
The Republican Party likes to hearken back to those good old days when they believe simpler values made our Nation a better place to live. Well, I’ve got a very old saw for them to consider. “A stitch in time saves nine.” Sadly, it’s a little late for that one. So, I’ll offer one more for their consideration that seems more timely. “Confession is good for the soul.” Come on, if you really want to follow your hero, Ronald Reagan, just say you screwed up and are sorry. I know that’s hard to do, but it would be the first step toward your recovery.
As for my more liberally leaning readers,
KEEP FIGHTING THE GOOD FIGHT!