In 2008, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson gathered the heads of the nine largest banks and told them their institutions would need to accept a federal bailout, whether they wanted one or not. “If a capital infusion is not appealing, you should be aware that your regulator will require it in any circumstance,” Paulson’s notes said. The federal government ended up owning $125 billion in preferred stock in these banks.
Congress had passed a $700 billion “Troubled Asset Relief Plan,” but few, if any, lawmakers expected the government would use that cash to take a huge ownership position in the banks. The supposed goal was to help homeowners, and TARP’s own Inspector General says the government failed. “TARP’s Main Street goals of ‘increas[ing] lending,’ and ‘promot[ing] jobs and economic growth’ had been largely unmet, but it is TARP’s failure to realize its most specific Main Street goal, ‘preserving homeownership,’ that has had perhaps the most devastating consequences,” Neil Barofsky told lawmakers in 2011.
Americans are still dealing with the hangover of the 2008 crisis, and probably will be as long as the long arm of the federal government continues to reach into the private sector. U.S. Grant’s taciturn, limited government approach was the better course.
Grant has come to have a bad reputation. He’s usually listed as one of the 10 worst presidents on any such list. Even the modern White House is in on the act. His official biography at the White House Web site claims that as president, Grant “seemed bewildered. One visitor to the White House noted ‘a puzzled pathos, as of a man with a problem before him of which he does not understand the terms.’”
Brands’ book, on the other hand, paints a portrait of a reserved yet confident man. A leader who, in war and in peace, could always see the big picture. The biographer dismisses rumors that Grant was an alcoholic and a butcher on the battlefield. Instead, by frequently quoting Grant, Brands shows him as a man with a keen awareness of events and a wry sense of humor.
Grant worked as much as any president to promote equality. He tried to help freed slaves in the conquered south and as well as Native Americans in the far west. He entered office as a war hero and managed to remain overwhelmingly popular eight years later.
“Let us have peace,” Grant declared when running for president. This biography makes it clear that he deserves peace, and our respect, as well.