When I was a kid in Milwaukee, before we moved to Minneapolis, there was a guy who walked up and down Wisconsin Ave., the main drag, wearing a sandwich board proclaiming, “Repent! The End Is Near.”
Of course, he meant his warning in a “come to Jesus now” sort of way. But if the fellow is still alive, I hope he’s moved east and is walking through the canyons of lower Manhattan, warning that the financial folly of the past four decades is coming to an abrupt, potentially disastrous, end. You know things are really bad when The White House refuses to comment on a major business crisis, as happened yesterday when rumors that Lehman Bros. was tanking flew fast and furious around the world.
This morning, Lehman filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection but liquidation is almost a certainty. Then, Bank of America bailed out the very symbol of Wall Street, the ever-bullish on America Merrill Lynch, by acquiring it at a bargin basement price of $50-billion. The state of New York bailed out AIG today, as well, allowing the gargantuan insuror to borrow billions from subsidiaries so it could remain liquid. Coming on the heels of Freddie and Fannie being rescued by the Fed a few weeks ago and Bear Stearns being snatched from the edge of the abyss just before that, coupled with world oil prices falling almost as fast as the US dollar, and chaos looms.
Put bluntly, the end is near: Today marks the official beginning of the end of more than four generations of uninterrupted American prosperity.
You can thank Ronald Reagan and both George Bush’s for the country’s coming plight, and Bill Clinton for being an accessory after the fact, to the dramatically nasty changes that will befall the country over the next 18-to-24 months: A credit crisis such as the world has not seen since the 1930s, tight money forcing small and mid-sized companies out of business, large corporations cutting everywhere to survive, a massive increase in the unemployment rate, states unable to take care of ballooning welfare rolls because property tax collections are dropping as home prices keep declining.
And this may be only the beginning.
The Republican answer is predictable: Cut taxes even more for the wealthy, the people least affected by even a sharp downturn in the economy, and cut back programs to help those most affected. As recently as this weekend, John McCain was still touting his usual tax cutting bilge as the way to stave off the worst economic crisis in 80 years – that is, when he wasn’t lying about Barack Obama’s tax proposals.
McCain and Bush touted the strength of the financial markets today even as the major stock indexes tumbled and, this morning, that economic whizkid Sarah Palin blamed Wall Street's problems on too much regulation, ignoring the reality that it was a lack of regulation that created the sub-prime market which touched off this whole mess originally.
The good news is that, if they’re nimble enough, Democrats have been handed a golden opportunity to return to their New Deal roots and rescue the country at the same time.
The campaign can pivot in the Democrats favor if they go on the Give ‘Em Hell Harry Truman offense. In 1948, Truman kept asking voters, “How many times do you have to be hit over the head with a board before you realize who’s hitting you with it?” The question in 2008 is how long will voters let Republicans keep hitting them over the head?
Just look at what Reagan-Bush-McCain-onomics and its view of the world gave us:
• Banks and financial markets became so deregulated that they were able to literally steal money legally from the pockets of investors, home owners, small businesses and people who were easily duped even as what regulators remained were powerless to act to stop them.
• A yawning gap between have’s and have-nots in the US, where you are either rich as Croesus, desperately poor or clinging by your fingernails to a rapidly shrinking middle class.
• A tax code that rewards hoarding – and hiding – unearned income even as it punishes average, two-income families for working too hard; when Warren Buffet, one of the country’s richest men, says it’s criminal that his secretary pays a higher tax rate than he does, you know things are terribly askew.
• Billions are borrowed every week to spend on war while people at home die as bridges collapse for lack of money to maintain them, schools deteriorate to where the United States literacy rate is an embarrassment, and nearly one-fifth of the country lacks access to basic medical care because they are uninsured or underinsured.
• A rabid belief in so-called unfettered and free markets that hands out billions in subsidies to oil companies while almost nothing by comparison is spent on commercializing economic alternatives to the very thing – oil – that is destroying the planet. If unfettered free markets are such a panacea, then why do oil giants need lush tax subsidies?
So here we sit, the poorest rich nation on earth, doing everything we can to bring about our own demise.
It’s time for the Democratic Party and the Obama-Biden ticket to begin shouting from the rooftops, “Look what they’re doing to you! To us! It’s your Bill of Rights and your wallet and your life and your children’s future that they’re stealing from you, and they want you to vote for them so they can steal even more from you!”
It is time for Democrats to speak hard truth to the country, the way FDR did in 1932 when the nation was in as tight an economic bind as it is now, and in 1948 when Truman kept talking truth to voters about the Republican-controlled Congress. It is time to talk about what made America great: A level playing field kept in check by a government that blew the whistle when one side was taking advantage of the other.
It's time to "Give 'em hell, Barack!"
*When I was young, oh so much younger than today, I believed that the United States would become completely unhinged at some point in my lifetime. This...