Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Speaking Truth To Power

In all honesty, it's about time a president had the nerve to speak honestly to the powers that be in this country: the American people:

Warning that a failure to act "could turn a crisis into a catastrophe," Mr. Obama used his presidential platform — a prime-time news conference, the first of his presidency, in the grand setting of the White House East Room — to address head on the concerns about his approach, which has by and large failed to win the Republican support he sought.

"The plan is not perfect," Mr. Obama said in an eight-minute speech before taking reporters' questions. "No plan is. I can't tell you for sure that everything in this plan will work exactly as we hope, but I can tell you with complete confidence that a failure to act will only deepen this crisis."

Imagine, a President imagining that he might actually make a mistake! Even Bill Clinton (and anyone who's been on this blog for any length of time will know how hard I have to cough to get this furball out) had a near-impossible time doing that.
The money quote for this old liberal is this one, however:

It is absolutely true that we can't depend on government alone to create jobs or economic growth. That is and must be the role of the private sector. But at this particular moment, with the private sector so weakened by this recession, the federal government is the only entity left with the resources to jolt our economy back into life. It is only government that can break the vicious cycle where lost jobs lead to people spending less money, which leads to even more layoffs. And breaking that cycle is exactly what the plan that's moving through Congress is designed to do.

Precisely. Precisely the situation at the moment and precisely the philosophy that should be etched in stone over the entrance to Capitol Hill: There are some problems so big that only government can provide an adequate solution.
I know. Try telling that to a conservative waving the "free enterprise" banner. After they've larded up at the Federal trough with everything from free research and development to bailout funds. And allowing nothing for the poor family down the street trying to pay rent and feed their children.
Look, the markets are marvels of social engineering. They provide an environment where ideas get tested, proved or discarded. The wheels move on. The successful can make as much money as the market allows. The unsuccessful...ahhhh, see, there's the rub.
All economic philosophies fall apart the second you take them out to the real world. Capitalism probably works the best, as I've said before, because it at least acknowledges a very human urge: greed. But capitalism will also grind up and mash down anyone who is unsuccessful, or worse, charitable.
And that needs to be acknowledged too, and that aspect of humanity simply must be incorporated into a free market society.
Period. Whether it's the ludicrosities of "A thousand points of light," or "compassionate conservatism," or the very real "mend it, don't end it" philosophy of the centrist Democrats, those who are unsuccessful in this economy have to be protected and provided with more opportunities.
Not a job, necessarily, but a chance. Not a hand out, but a hand up. It is imperative to the long term health of this nation that this be done, and a structure put in place that allows no one to "accidentally" fall through the cracks. Not a safety net, a safety TARP.
At eleven o'clock this morning, Treasury Secretary Louis Geithner is scheduled to announce phase two (or is it three already?) of the bank bailout process. President Obama has previewed that relief for individual homeowners is part of this package, and I applaud that. Like smoking in past decades, people had the prospect of easy credit and humongous mortgages as "healthy" dangled in front of them, marketed like the newest shampoo or car. "Keep up your payments and keep up with the Joneses, and we'll make it easier for you to do both!"
It's not enough. Indeed, I'd go so far as to upside down the payout: $300 billion to the American people who are struggling with mortgages, and $50 billion more to banks who are having a credit crunch. Mortgages get paid down, bank capital is immediately straightened out, and the crisis melts away over time. We can focus on the other problems we face.
But this plan is a start. It's at least an acknowledgement that capitalism has failed the least among us.