For one thing, Black Tuesday did not come during a presidential election year. We are looking at a disaster that is being magnified by a rare and unhappy confluence of events.
There are a number of things going on here that seem designed to work against any kind of rational behavior. Having a crisis of this magnitude a month before a hotly contested national election would seem an automatic invitation to disaster.
But there are a lot of other ingredients. First of all, almost no one seems to have seen the economic crisis coming.
That may be due in part to a failure of my profession, journalism. Those who are running our major news institutions evidently want you to believe that Matt Damon and Jennifer Aniston and J Lo are the most important people in the world.
They want you to think about their frivolous and inconsequential lives. Trying to make serious sense of our nation’s finances is hard and takes a lot of work. Washington likes to criticize the domestic automakers these days for being so short-sighted, for caring more about the next set of ten-days sales reports than about building the cars needed to stay competitive ten years from now. That’s fair.
Yet the fact is that we’ve been running our economy the same way. Asking the voters to tighten their belts, turn down that dial and invest for the long-term future was politically risky at best.
Borrowing a few trillion more from China to keep the good times rolling was a lot easier. Besides, by the time the bill comes due, the politicians who borrowed the money are likely to be retired.
Well, we’re close to maxing out all our credit cards. The bills are coming due, the banks are tottering, and nobody is exactly sure what to do about it. Suddenly, Congress was told that either they put up immense sums to bail out these imprudent lenders, or the whole financial structure could come crashing down.
That didn’t make much sense to most congressmen, who frankly resented it. Rank-and-file Republicans didn’t see why their constituents should have to bail out the Wall Street plutocrats.
Both Democrats and Republicans smelled an election-year rat and didn’t want to be left holding the bag with the ticking time bomb. So, yesterday, they revolted against the leadership of both parties.
To everyone’s shock, they told those who had built the life raft to shove it. That must have felt good, until the largest one-day stock slide in history. We don’t know what happens next.
We do know that Republicans are ignoring the man they once followed blindly, George W. Bush and his would-be successor, John McCain. Barack Obama seems mysteriously silent.
Oregon’s only Republican congressman, a former broadcaster named Greg Walden, may have put it best.
“We are playing with fire. It’s very, very dangerous,” he said.
We are likely to find out how much so, very soon.