Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Bipartisanship: How Do You Spell It, With a P or a T?

I have just watched the most blatant piece of political fraud I have ever seen: the September 24 speech to the nation of George W. Bush explaining the current financial crisis. First the President pretended to explain the origins of the crisis, making sure, of course, to characterize everything as having descended from the outside, that the crisis just somehow “happened.” There was all this money that came into the system from abroad (it must have been them “furriners” again), he explained. Then somehow with all this money, there was more money for loans, and the loans were given to irresponsible people who shouldn’t have been given them. And with no real oversight being employed to keep risks within bounds, somehow the nasty housing market somehow began to fall, and all these securities somehow lost value.

And that, boys and girls, is how we got into this terrible crisis.

Notice. No one was responsible. Certainly not the Bush administration, nor Alan Greenspan, nor the Republican Party, with their historic ties to Wall Street (the Bush family fortune, not incidentally, derived mostly from Wall Street bankers who engaged in some pretty sordid deals with Nazi Germany); and most decidedly not former Goldman Sachs CEO Henry Paulson, our current Secretary of the Treasury, who is authoring all these bailouts for his cronies. And of course, as my son recently pointed out to me, it certainly could not have been John McCain’s crony and chief economic adviser, Phil Gramm, who as head of the Senate Banking Committee, led the enactment of the 1999 Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act to disable the depression-era Glass Steigal Act (passed to curb just the kind of excesses that we have today and which essentially had compartmentalized financial institutions, separating banking, insurance and brokerage activities, so that the kind of chicanery that led to the current meltdown could not have taken place). Nor could it have been Senator McCain himself, who has been the chief Congressional voice of the last 20 years arguing for more and more deregulation—deregulation which, like Gramm-Leach-Bliley, bears heavy responsibility for the Wall St. excesses that caused the crisis.

No. The President simply made it sound as if it all just happened. It was a kind of 9/11 folks, a bolt out of the blue. Or more appropriately, a kind of Katrina: A natural disaster of finance. And we all know how irresponsible Mother Nature can be.

In response to this wicked disaster, the great bipartisan Republican party and its leaders—Bush and now McCain—call for the political establishment to put aside its traditional antagonisms, get together and hammer out a solution “for the good of the country.” And John McCain, to indicate his TOTAL lack of political self-interest and partisanship, announces on major networks that he is suspending his campaigning and heading to Washington to lead the bipartisan effort to pass the administration’s plan. Indeed, so great was the crisis, he intoned earlier in the day, that he wanted to call off the first, and highly anticipated debate with Barack Obama, about, guess what? domestic affairs.

Now isn’t this interesting. Suddenly, with his campaign in deep doo doo because of the financial crisis, to solve which the American people rightly judge he hasn’t a clue, McCain asks for suspension of that campaign, suspension of the debate wherein he would be totally outclassed by his opponent, and for a joining of forces to “save the country.” Nevermind that many economists and many members of his own party have raised serious doubts about whether the Bush-Paulson $700 billion bailout plan a) is even necessary or b) would even solve the underlying problem.

Ah no. This is a crisis. The sky is falling, and the American people, if they want to avoid an even greater shock (read Naomi Klein on the “Shock Doctrine”) must come together. Bipartisanship must save the day. We must all do whatever it takes to save the economy.

But wait. These are Republicans preaching this sermon; Republicans who fight like the rabid, absolutely uncompromising dogs they are when they have the upper hand in an issue—such as the crisis over 9/11 and defending the country—but who now, seeing themselves about to be buried by the greatest crisis since the Depression, are suddenly all about bipartisanship? Have you noticed that? Where is their vaunted bipartisanship when it comes to Global Warming? Where is their precious bipartisanship when it comes to child welfare, or people losing their homes, or healthcare?

It is to laugh. It is to realize that this is not real bipartisanshiP, with a “p”. This is bipartisanshiT, with a “t”. And what that means is that, in reality, bipartisanshit is the essence of this kind of bipartisanship, a public ploy meant to demonstrate, in spite of all the evidence, that McCain’s passion is for country first, and politics second.

In short, this is a classic Karl Rovian bait and switch. Make the most blatantly political move possible, and convince the public that it’s not political but selfless service, loyalty, bipartisanship. Put your opponent in an impossible position, and call it bipartisanship.

What it needs to be called, however, is what it really is: bipartisanshiT. With a very big “T”. And I can only hope that the American people maintain their outrage, and their assessment of where the blame truly lies—with the party and the administration that, for the past eight years, indeed for the past twenty-five years starting with Ronald Reagan, has succeeded in driving this nation into the biggest economic and moral shit pile in its history.

Lawrence DiStasi

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