Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Magician's Tablecloth

The Republicans screwed up, bigtime. It started as a pig at the trough bailout, with Paulson and the Bush Admin serving as the pig callers. But as the pigs showed up, they made increasingly absurd demands, until finally, the thing sank under its own weight. But plain and simple, this was a Bush Admin bailout, entirely conceived of by them and intended to be run by them. But they blew it.

And so Democratic leaders rushed to their aid, but started asking lots of questions and finally decided to bailout the bailout; but on their terms. It was still basically the same bad deal, but with lots of little goodies and oversight added to it. They turned the Bush Admin's horrible plan into something Democrats would be willing to accept. But it was still the lousy bailout that the Bushies were too ashamed to withdrawal from. And so they played along and gave the Dems enough political cover without spoiling the whole parade.

And then there's McCain. Dropping in the polls, looking indecisive and stupid, he makes a political decision to bet everything on red, I mean bailout. And the plan is to swoop in and act presidential for something he imagines must be a straight-forward done deal that he can take the credit for. After all, he's the one who "suspended" his campaign, so it must have been his idea. But he's not really in on the Bush Admin plan (possibly because he continues to denounce Bush's record and Bush has always hated him) and doesn't realize that the initial plan was a bust.

So McCain basically walked into a loaded dice craps game that the pitboss is now keeping an eye on...and doesn't realize any of this. Obama already called his bluff on the campaign "suspension," but he was still planning to get his presidential photo-op. Stupid bastard didn't have a clue. This was the real deal.

The House Loses

Finally, we have the last piece of the equation, which turned a serious financial bailout into political farce: The House Republicans. These guys have been shitting themselves for having followed Bush into a political minefield over the past several years, and none of the smart guys like Rove or DeLay are around to guide them through anymore. And now they're panicking.

These are loyal authoritarians who support Dear Leader right up to the time they realize their fates are better left in their own hands; and that time has now arrived. They've got a little over a month before they face the wrath of the voters and they better come up with something quick. They've been in lemming territory for quite awhile and they're starting to panic now that the cliff is approaching. After all, Bush gets to retire to Crawford next year, but these people still have an election to think about. And if they lose, it's back to their day jobs.

And so they pull the oldest play in the politician's handbook: Doing what's popular with voters. Screw the party elders, it's every congressman for himself. And while this bailout is probably necessary, it's unpopular, especially with Republicans. And so they're going to be the "heroes" by "bravely" opposing it and hoping it's enough to convince voters to ignore everything else they've done over the past two years.

As the Dishes Fall

But let's go back to why this specific package was made: The Dems decided to put their necks on the line and save the Bush Admin as a way of avoiding a huge crisis. Without the Dems, you've got the Bush Admin with a dead in the water bailout. And without the bailout, you've got a crisis. Now, the Republicans decided to take advantage of this for political reasons, but it only works if the bill still gets passed. Because without a bill, you've got crisis. And who gets blamed for that? The dopes who killed the bill.

Because the House Republicans weren't actually against the bailout. They were against being blamed for the bailout. But without the bailout, we've still got crisis. And if they're the ones who stopped it, then they're responsible for coming up with their own plan to avoid crisis. But as we've already seen, their plan was idiotic and failed to account for even basic principles of finance or insurance. It was an ideological contrivance designed to impress the rubes who hated the bailout, but it wasn't supposed to actually work. Their real plan was just to pull the tablecloth aside and marvel as the dishes stayed in place. Viola!

They assumed that the Dems would pull out all the stops to make the bailout work, so they could pin the whole thing on the Democrats. But enough House Dems were smart enough to see what was happening and they didn't want any part of it. Or as one analysis I saw suggested, Dem leaders built-in a failsafe that would sink the bill without more cover from Republicans. Or perhaps Dem leaders realized what was happening and set-up the Republicans to look like the bad guys by telling a few Dems to vote against it. Who knows.

Holding the Bag

But whatever it was, it's a done deal now. All that matters is that the Republican betrayal backfired. They were supposed to look like the heroes who bravely stood against Bush and the Democrats, but instead look like the jerks who put politics ahead of crisis. And even worse, the Republicans signaled that they were going to play politics on this and make the Dems own an unpopular bill. And if Dems are going to own the bill, they might as well make it one that Democrats like; which would involve completely scraping Paulson's plan and starting over.

And so rather than being the "brave" politicians who pretended to fight an unpopular "Democratic" plan, they now look like obstructionist idiots who are likely to have an actual Democratic plan pushed through. And if Bush is the stubborn asshole we know he is, he'll approve of just about anything the Democrats come up with at this point. If so, he'll finally have learned how the game works, months before he leaves public office forever. Loyalty's nice, but it's safer to have political cover from your opponents. That's what Clinton did and he'll always be more popular than Bush ever will be.

And McCain? He's hung out to dry by his own gimmicks. Had he not vowed to push the bailout through last week as his big news grabber, he wouldn't have been stuck in the position of having to support it this week. Had he led the House GOP in an anti-bailout charge, they could all come out looking like heroes; at least to the conservative base that was already going to vote for him. But instead, he gave the bailout a more bi-partisan appearance, which makes the Republican betrayal less defensible. And because Obama brought most of his side to support the bi-partisan bill McCain supported, he comes out ahead, even though the bill failed. So rather than putting Obama in a corner, McCain cornered himself and made Obama look presidential.

And even worse, McCain looks like a continuation of Bush more than ever. McCain's already looking like a lameduck and he didn't even get to be president. Poor schmuck never did understand strategy.

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