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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    “Editorial: Fear, not wisdom, guided Congress in bailout vote”

    The late journalist Hunter S. Thompson once referred to American politics as a “”kingdom of fear.”” In recent years, his phrase has seemed more and more apt.

    In the last seven years, we’ve seen fear increasingly used as a political device, reaching unprecedented heights – unprecedented, at least, for Americans. We’ve seen basic political liberties restricted in the name of “”national security.”” We’ve seen a major war launched after high-ranking officials warned of a “”smoking gun in the shape of a mushroom cloud.”” And we’ve seen a vice president warn voters that the election of his president’s opponent would leave America more vulnerable to another Sept. 11.

    This trend climaxed last week, when party leaders used the financial crisis to stampede wavering and stalwart representatives into supporting a $700 billion bailout for the American financial system.

    The bailout had been resoundingly shot down by the House of Representatives 228-205 on Sept. 29. A Washington Post-ABC News poll taken that day found that 47 percent of Americans opposed the bill (with 45 in favor), while more than 6 out of 10 thought it didn’t do enough to protect ordinary people. A poll taken three days before had found only 30 percent of Americans in favor of it.

    The support of the entire political elite – the White House, congressional leaders and both presidential candidates – had not convinced a majority of Americans that their interests were commensurate with those of Wall Street.

    What changed their minds? “”In a word: fear,”” said New York Times columnist Joe Nocera on Oct. 4. “”They were so afraid that if they didn’t do anything the economy might collapse.””

    Comparing the bailout propaganda to that which preceded the war in Iraq, Rep. John Conyers complained: “”Instead of scaring the American people with tales of weapons of mass destruction or planes piloted by terrorists, the President bullies the taxpayer with dire warnings of a credit freeze that will bring our economy to its knees.””

    It’s common to blame all our ills on excessive “”partisanship.”” As McClatchy writer David Lightman observed Oct. 5, “”Congress in recent years has become more of a cauldron of partisan ire, where each side is highly suspicious of the other,”” Whether that’s true or not, it’s not what happened this time. The rejection of the bill was not partisan: 132 Republicans and 94 Democrats voted no on the bailout.

    What happened was far more insidious than mere partisanship. The president and party leaders launched what amounted to a full-scale propaganda assault on the dissenting representatives and the American people.

    “”Our entire economy is in danger,”” President Bush declared on Sept. 24. Without action by Congress, he insisted, the country faced “”a major panic”” in which “”millions of Americans could lose their jobs.”” It was a fine example of what a Washington Post columnist called “”Bush’s gun-to-the-head leadership style.”” Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke spoke in similarly apocalyptic terms, warning of “”disaster”” and of “”deep and extensive recession.””

    Bush found ample support for his plan from Democratic leaders. The bailout “”will happen because it has to happen,”” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Sen. Hillary Clinton warned: “”There is a risk that commerce could grind to a halt.”” Aren’t they supposed to be the opposition?

    It may well be that the bailout plan was the best means to restore confidence in the economy, that $700 billion was a small price to pay for averting a disaster. But it deserved a thoughtful debate. Instead, we got one that was deliberately poisoned with fear.

    Instead of being carefully weighed and examined, the bailout plan was stampeded through a fearful Congress and foisted on the country by fear-mongering political leaders, who used the economic crisis as a pretext for all but closing-down debate. Regardless of what effect the bailout has, this is a decidedly disturbing way to conduct politics.

    Editorials are determined by the Daily Wildcat opinions board and written by one of its members. They are Andi Berlin, Justyn Dillingham, Lauren LePage, Lance Madden and Nick Seibel.

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