So here we are -- wherever "here" is, economically, financially speaking. The House balks at the bailout. The markets tumble. What next? No expert who tells you he knows what's ahead is to be believed, and you can tell him a colleague said so.
I wonder if we might, anyway, engage in some guess work. I have a few notions of my own.
I think the election of Barack Obama has not been cinched, but that the Democratic ticket's chances are vastly enhanced. It is a melancholy thought. I share it with reluctance.
If I correctly read human nature, I see my fellow Americans as ready for a brand-new version of the same-old same-old. I see them ready, that is, for "change." For anything but news accounts about the crash of companies and the shredding of retirement accounts and stock portfolios.
The most sensible editorial page on the planet, the Wall Street Journal's, saw the bailout bill as generally, under the anguished circumstances, OK. That gave some hope. Yet the House went ahead and shot the thing down. I have the sense that Americans, whatever their view of the proposed bailout, are sick of the whole sideshow. They want it to go away. But it won't. So they hope for something new.
Many are tired of the old doctors -- associated as they are with painful treatment rather than cure -- with bailouts, with takeovers, with anguish, with loss. They want a new set of physicians. In fact, I think what they want is that which children who cut their fingers want. They want authority figures to "kiss it and make it well."
This is where we are politically, I think. The polls show Obama sprinting into the electoral lead. I do not think it is because he is Barack the Wonderful. I think it is because he was outside the room when the ceiling came crashing down unexpectedly and the moaning started.
Nor do voters require him to have infallible answers. They require only that he inspect the damage, pick up the phone, call in the work crews.
Which can be a problem for the new gang. What if they don't work out? What if their plans aren't any good, or anyway noticeably better than the old plans? The Obama administration -- see, I am starting to think of it in those terms -- lacks ideas unconnected with enhancing the clout of "progressive" interest groups like labor unions and "community organizers." Tax increases, suffocating oversight of credit decisions, general dampening of the spirit of innovation and risk-taking -- stunts like these can keep an economy stalled indefinitely, to the mounting anger of those who demanded "change" to begin with. Even the House has come to wish it had bailed out for dear life!
We shouldn't say the Obama administration will, for sure, carry out such notions. Its members, some of them, might have better sense! Yet there is little in the Obama portfolio to suggest affection for private, as markedly distinguished from public, economic initiatives.
Yes, yes, yes! Agreed! Particular Wall Streeters have proved themselves at least as dumb and shortsighted as the nosiest regulator. Yet many of these merely responded to government initiatives such as the push for universal home ownership financed by interest rates held too low for too long by, yes, federal policy.
Successful economic policy for the long haul is biased in the direction of freedom and opportunity-seeking: commodities you want more of, not less.
I grant it's early for pulling long faces over the expected humbling in a few weeks of those politicians generally wedded to freedom and opportunity-seeking. I have to encourage them all the same to get ready. Things don't get look good, and perhaps shouldn't, for the party that ran Washington for most of the last eight years. There are tides in the affairs of men that wash out to sea those perceived, fairly or not, as complicit in failure.
I hope that's not what I see right now -- a tide forming up for Democrats as well as Republicans who consistently, and honorably, come down on the side of freedom as a basic ingredient for economic success. I hope, nevertheless, they know how to swim.