Even now, with the house on fire, the most extreme among them won’t pick up the fire hoses and try to put it out.
With the fate of the Bush administration’s desperate $700 billion bailout of the financial industry hanging in the balance, Representative Darrell Issa, a Republican from California, stuck to his political playbook like a man covered in Krazy Glue. He pronounced himself “resolute” in his opposition to the bailout because to be otherwise would amount to a betrayal of party principles.
To deviate from those principles, in Mr. Issa’s view, would be like placing “a coffin on top of Ronald Reagan’s coffin.”
We are in very strange territory here.
George H.W. Bush warned us about “voodoo economics” in 1980, but the ideologues clamped a gag on him and put him on the Gipper’s ticket. For much of the time since then, the madmen of the right have carried the day. They were freed of their remaining few restraints with the ascendance of George W. Bush in 2000.
These were the reckless clowns who led us into the foolish multitrillion-dollar debacle in Iraq and who crafted tax policies that enormously benefited millionaires and billionaires while at the same time ran up staggering amounts of government debt. This is the crowd that contributed mightily to the greatest disparities in wealth in the U.S. since the gilded age.
This was the crowd that cut the cords of corporate and financial regulations and in myriad other ways gleefully hacked away at the best interests of the United States.
Now we’re looking into the abyss.
When President Bush went on television last week to drum up support for the bailout package, he looked almost dazed, like someone who’d just climbed out of an auto wreck.
“Our entire economy is in danger,” he said.
He should have said that he, along with his irresponsible Republican colleagues and their running buddies in the corporate and financial sectors, put the entire economy in danger. John McCain and his economic main man, Phil (“this is a mental recession”) Gramm, were right there running with them.
Credit markets have frozen almost solid, banks are toppling like dominoes and brokerage houses are vanishing like props in a magic act. And who was one of the paramount leaders of the manic anti-regulatory charge that led to this sorry state of affairs? None other than Mr. Gramm himself, a former chairman of the Senate Banking Committee.
Where is Mr. Gramm now? Would you believe that he’s the vice chairman of UBS Securities, the investment banking arm of the Swiss bank UBS? Of course you would. A New York Times article last spring noted that the “elite private bankers” of UBS “built a lucrative business in recent years by discreetly tending the fortunes of American millionaires and billionaires.”
Toadying to the rich while sabotaging the interests of working people was always Mr. Gramm’s specialty. He was considered a likely choice to be treasury secretary in a McCain administration until he made his impolitic “mental recession” comment. He also said the U.S. was a “nation of whiners.”
The tone-deaf remarks in the midst of severe economic hard times undermined Senator McCain’s convoluted efforts to reinvent himself as some kind of populist. But they were wholly in keeping with the economic worldview of conservative Republicans.
The inescapable disconnect between rhetoric and reality is often stark. Senator McCain has been ranting recently about the excessive pay and “bloated golden parachutes” of failed corporate executives. And yet one of his closest advisers on economic matters is Carly Fiorina, who was forced out as chief executive of Hewlett-Packard. Her golden parachute was an estimated $42 million.
Voters have to shoulder a great deal of the blame for the economic mess the country is in. Too many were willing, for whatever reasons, to support politicians who spat in the eye of economic common sense. Now the voodoo that permeated conservative economic policies for so many years has come back to haunt us big-time.
The question voters should be asking John McCain is whether he has stopped serving his party’s economic Kool-Aid, which has taken such a toll on working families, and is ready to change his ways. Is his sudden populist transformation the real thing or just a mirage?
In the gale force winds of a full-fledged economic hurricane, it’s fair to ask Senator McCain whether he still considers himself a conservative, small government, anti-regulation, free-market zealot. Or whether he’s seen the light.
More Articles in Opinion » A version of this article appeared in print on September 30, 2008, on page A27 of the New York edition.