Squandered Trust: Why the Bailout is Being Questioned ...

Matt Lewis
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Posted: Sep 24, 2008 8:54 AM
My guess is that five years ago, few conservatives would have dared to voice opposition to this bailout.  Today, of course, things are a bit different.

Philosophically, the situation could have been identical.  Facing a similar situation five years ago, George Bush could have probably asked us to hastily spend $700 billion without any sort of long deliberation (which, I might add is what Congress is supposed to do), and few would have raised an eyebrow.  Moreover, he could have suggested giving Henry Paulson unprecedented, un-elected, central planning authority over the nation's finances, and only a few libertarians might have objected.

Americans -- even conservatives (who are supposed to value things such as liberty, individualism, small government, tradition, etc.) -- would most likely have gone along with this without too much opposition.  Sure, there would have been a few gadflies who would have objected, but they would soon have been laughed-off. 

So what changed?  For one, based on the last seven years, few Americans believe the adults are in charge.  We look at Treasury Secretary Paulson and wonder if he's any more competent than, say, Alberto Gonzales -- or "Browny" (by the way, Paulson has consistently been wrong in the past ).   This, of course, is the danger in promoting inept officials out of loyalty -- it destroys the confidence in all leaders.

And whether or not you personally view going into Iraq as an appropriate thing to do in the long-run, we also wonder if the evidence that is being cited in this instance to encourage a quick bailout is any better than reports of WMD's.  You can legitimately argue that WMD's don't matter, but it's hard to argue that Bush did not have faulty intelligence.  Might we be getting faulty intelligence now?

We are also skeptical of the "doom and gloom" scenario that exists if we choose not to do what the Administration suggests.  After all, this isn't the first time we've been told that not supporting one of their programs will result in something cataclysmic occurring.  And every time there is some sort of crisis, it usually results in Americans giving up more freedoms -- which we will never get back, I might add.

Five years ago, conservatives were willing to give Bush the benefit of the doubt.  Today, however, conservatives might rightly wonder if Bush is using the same judgment that made him think Harriet Miers was the best person for the Supreme Court ... 

What is more, when we look at liberal positions such as No Child Left Behind -- or even his penchant for "compassionate conservative" spending -- and wonder if this is an example of Bush making the "safe" choice in the eyes of liberals (after all, everyone learned the lesson of Herbert Hoover -- that hesitating to take government action is the wrong political move).  As Steve Chapman writes:

"The plan conceived by Paulson and Bernanke stems from the oldest bureaucratic imperative: cover your backside. If they had not acted and the inaction turned out to be a colossal error, they would have been tarred, feathered and roasted on a spit for their misjudgment. But if the rescue ends up a mess, they can always say, without fear of contradiction, that the alternative would have been even worse."
In short, Americans -- even the very folks who used to be Bush's base -- are, for good reasons, skeptical.  The problem with "crying wolf" is that people are less likely to believe you when a real crisis arises. 

Today, because few Americans have the insider knowledge of the intricacies of the financial situation at hand, we are essentially being asked to blindly follow the Administration's recommendations -- and to dramatically change our system -- based almost solely on their recommendation and judgment. 

As Bush famously said:  "Fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again."