September 29, 2008

Republicans Divided Against Themselves

After the American Century

It was the great Republican President Abraham Lincoln who famously declared that a house divided against itself could not stand. On September 29, 2008 the House of Representatives showed that it was so divided that it could not come together to back a bailout plan to save the banking system. One hopes that some new compromise will emerge, but the House has already negotiated for days with the spotlight of the world press upon it. During these negotiations banks were failing all over the world. Both candidates for the presidency as well as the incumbent agreed that the bill ought to be passed, and still a majority of the House did not vote for it. The defeat demonstrates a comprehensive collapse of leadership.

Speaker Pelosi could not get her Democrats to vote for it in sufficient numbers, though a considerable majority did favor it. George Bush, as a lame duck president in the final days of his failed presidency, could not muster the needed support. Nor could John McCain. A shocking two-thirds of the Republican minority failed to vote for it. The 122 Republican votes against the President's bailout package is the core of the problem. The Republicans bear a special responsibility for the mess the banks are in, because they insisted on deregulating the banking system a decade ago, just as they also insisted on deregulating the energy business a few years earlier.

The Bush II era began with massive fraud and corporate failure, most famously the Enron debacle. The public has not entirely forgotten. Now the Bush II era is ending with massive bank failures. These are two examples of deregulation to the point of lax oversight and sloppy governance. Yet in the midst of a collapsing economy, the Republicans have learned nothing, it seems, and cry "socialism" when their own president tries to stop the financial bloodbath before it is too late. It seems the misguided Republican members of the House cannot give up their true religion, which is deregulation.

Understandably, the Democrats are not willing to bail out Bush, and then take the blame for the massive cost. They rightly want this to be a bi-partisan effort. More than 60% of them did vote for it, even so. The Republicans are now damned if they do and damned if they don't. If they continue to play hardball and refuse to vote for a compromise bill, then they will be blamed for all the evil that follows. And if they grudgingly give in during the next few days, the voters will not forget that they put ideology before necessity, and played politics with their future.

As for John McCain, these events have shown he cannot lead the Republicans. It was his chance to rally them into unity, and show he deserves to be president. But he did not unite them. He failed miserably, and not even one representative from his home state of Arizona voted for the bill. The Republicans are divided against themselves. Such a party cannot lead the country, much less anyone else. It cannot even follow. If Lincoln is out there in the great beyond, he must be deeply disturbed to see his party so split and so lacking in leadership.

The world was expecting to see a rabbit come out of the financial hat. Instead, it got instability, uncertainty, incredulity, and knee jerk ideology. Surely some will take what is left of their investments elsewhere, if they can find safer havens less devastated by these developments. This past week has been a sad spectacle fraught with danger. Quite possibly the worst is yet to come - depending on whether this crisis can be resolved. But a recovery bill delayed may turn into a recovery denied.