The Democrats want to make sure that if the Wall Street hedge fund managers, CEOs, and yes, the shareholders, have the benefit of a safety net of 700,000,000,000 soft dollar bills, then people whose homes are about to be foreclosed, who've lost their jobs, and who are hungry are also protected. Why should taxpayers be asked to bail out big companies in this financial crisis, if the government won't also toss them a life preserver when they are drowning in the same crisis?
The Patriot Act came fully formed from John Ashcroft's Justice Department to Congress, and there was so little discussion or debate that only one Senator -- Russ Feingold, D-Wisc., voted against it. It took only until October 26 -- six weeks after September 11 -- to pass the gigantic bill. Democrats were warned not to be "irresponsible," not to "seek political advantages by making incendiary suggestions." Even though the bill ran to hundreds or thousands of pages, it was passed in the blink of an eye: Congress trusted the Bush Administration and the Justice Department to tell it the truth. Plus, there was the implication that, if Democrats asked questions and held up the legislation at all, they would be responsible for another terrorist attack; "do this, or you'll kill Americans" was the tacit Republican argument.
As it turned out, though there was a lot good about the Patriot Act, or at least a lot of fair-to-middlin', there was also a lot of bad that should have been stopped by careful Representatives and Senators asking hard questions.
Iraq War Resolution
Or how about the Iraq War Resolution, which was rammed through Congress just a year later, in October 2002? Sixty-nine percent of the House of Representatives voted for it, and so did 77 percent of the Senate. The implication for Democrats was, "Surely you don't want Saddam Hussein to nuke Israel or America with that yellow-cake uranium from Niger, just because you were too cowardly to take him out. Do this, or you'll kill Americans and Israelis," went the argument.
And yet, Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction, which you remember was the original reason we were told we had to go to war, and which we now know was a lie. And everyone just sort of shrugged, and said, "Oh well. Saddam was a bad man who needed to be taken out."
(Sounds a lot like Grandma after she used to spank us grandkids, and when we'd ask what it was for, she'd say, "Well, you probably did something you oughtta be spanked for."
Looking back, I think I could have been persuaded to go to war in Iraq, had I and the American people been told the truth. If we really believe as a country that we have an obligation to install democracies and to overthrow oppressive regimes, then let's have that debate and see if the American people get behind it. But let's not pretend that the war's about something it's not, you know? And let's not rush into anything without a fully informed debate.
Wall Street Bailout
Now, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Republicans on the Hill are once again warning Democrats that there could be dire consequences if they don't fall in line immediately and pass the bail-out bill. Once again, the bill came, fully formed, from the Executive for Congress to rubber-stamp. Once again, there's no time, no time, no time for debate, and the implication is, "Come on, Democrats. You don't want to be responsible if the world's economy collapses on your watch, do you? Do this, or you'll starve Americans and everybody else!"
"We need to deal with this and deal with it quickly," says Paulson. "It pains me tremendously to have the American taxpayer put in this position but it is better than the alternative." What Paulson means to say without having to say it is that "the alternative" will be disastrous, and it will definitely be the Democrats' fault if they try to ask any questions or add any other aid to the bill.
House Minority Leader John Boener, R-Ohio (who, by the way, has the most soulless blue eyes I've ever seen), said, "This would be the most serious financial crisis that the world has ever dealt with. It is not a time to be playing games."
It says something to me about President Bush's ability to judge character that he can look into both Vladimir Putin's eyes and John Boehner's and feel convinced that either of them has a soul. (I'm just kidding. I'm sure Boehner has a soul. I just think his eyes look cruel.)
Playing games? Is that what families struggling to make ends meet mean to you, Congressman? Is that what folks losing their homes mean? Fathers and mothers who can't put food on the table because their jobs are gone and the unemployment is about to run out? Come on.
Nobody in America thinks that the government can do nothing to solve this crisis. Corporations -- entire industries -- have to be saved to keep everybody afloat. But my gosh, would it kill the Republicans to lend a hand directly to working people at the same time they're prepared to take on another $1,000,000,000,000 of national debt to save Wall Street? I don't think so, and neither do the Democrats.
But just as in the Patriot Act, just as in the Iraq War Resolution, Republicans are once again trying to beat the Democrats into voting for a bill without making sure it's the best bill we can get.
I hope it doesn't work this time. I hope the Democrats make John Boehner and the Republicans go explain to working families why they won't help them feed and house and educate their kids today, but they're willing to saddle their great-grandkids with an extra trillion dollars of debt to pay tomorrow.