- The Washington Times - Monday, July 15, 2002

2002 is on its way to being remembered as the year of the jitters around the country, but especially in Washington. The first half of the year was filled with terrorist threats and warnings, culminating in the extraordinary security and low attendance of July 4 celebrations. The second half has started with the accounting scandal-driven plunge of the stock markets, and, here in Washington last Friday, a pipe-bomb explosion on upper Wisconsin Ave. The hurried police evacuation of scores of shops and offices had local radio stations speculating that it might have been a terrorist bombing. By nightfall, the terrorist angle to the event had been discounted.
The terrorist threat is real, and a jittery response, both in Washington and around the country, is understandable, rational and probably unavoidable. But the national stock market jitters are being unnecessarily exacerbated by Washington politicians and journalists, who are recklessly politicizing investor fears.
In the last week, stockbrokers around the country have been reporting that for the first time in almost a generation, the small investors, in panic, are dumping their stocks. And with over half of our population owning stocks for the first time in history, a sustained small-investor panic could turn into a national economic calamity.
The accounting and corporate fraud-driven bankruptcies of several major companies are certainly grounds for investor caution and carefully targeted remedial legislation here in Washington. But the partisan frenzy driven by Democratic dreams and Republican fears of November election returns runs the serious risk of pushing the stock markets over the edge. In nervous times, the nation's leaders here in Washington are duty-bound to provide a calming influence even at the price of foregoing political advantage. Instead, Washington politicians, now at their cynical worst, may be seen by historians as the cause of the great crash of 2002 should such a tragedy occur.
The President having singularly failed to assert effective leadership last week, it falls to Congress acting against type to get a collective grip of itself this week and put the accounting and management irregularities and crimes in context. Both parties should lower their rhetoric and think about their fellow countrymen, rather than their fellow partymen.

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