- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 16, 2008


“To me, the amazing thing is you have so many House members who say, ‘I may not understand this, and all of expert opinion may be on one side saying we’ve got to do it, but I still say no.’ I mean, that’s sort of arrogant.” - David Brooks.

He’s smart and thoughtful, but David Brooks got this one wrong - the House was being far more prudent than arrogant when it initially turned down a constitutionally suspect, hastily devised, scaredy-cat piece of socialist legislation back in late September.

It’s true that while popular opinion was decisively against the $700 billion bailout, most establishment types were pressing for it, including people we might call experts. But since when does it reflect good judgment to salute authority figures with few questions asked, especially when there was at least some dissent from other students of the subject, including Nobel Prize winners?

As Mr. Brooks said, the representatives did not wholly understand the situation, which isn’t surprising - maybe no one did. As the New York Times columnist did not say during comments on “The Lehrer News Hour,” rushing through a major, lastingly momentous bill on highly complicated, poorly grasped matters calls to mind some folk wisdom: If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.

Those raising objections weren’t necessarily against doing anything at all, wanting instead to ponder whether other steps might not avail more than buying up shaky financial-industry assets. Others wanted to see if free market forces might not come to the rescue while inflicting needed punishment for irresponsible behavior.

Slow down and learn more, dissenters were mostly arguing, but as Mark Shields noted on the show with Mr. Brooks, the Dow Jones declined by 778 points the day the House said nothing doing. That and additional factors frightened some naysayers into becoming yea-sayers, helping to secure the measure’s House passage a few days later. And since final enactment, what has happened to the stock market? It has plummeted to a five-year low, one piece of evidence among many that the bill was hardly the precisely crafted cure-all it was made out to be.

The bill’s originator, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, soon backed off from its stated intentions, saying a few weeks after its passage that, hey, here’s a new idea: We will put a third of the money into banks, more directly ameliorating the credit crunch that way. And then the other day, he said that instead of continuing to plow hundreds of billions more to buy up mortgage-connected securities as the first plan called for, he wanted to address consumer credit.

But watch out, Henry, because here come the congressional Democrats, saying they want to use a significant portion of what’s left of the bailout billions to salvage the auto industry. Like President-elect Barack Obama, they want action right away, and if they are looking over their shoulders, they are maybe noticing a growing line of other industries saying they would like some of those billions, too, and if not those billions, fresh billions, because there’s nothing like having taxpayers take care of you in tough times.

Just as the conventional thinking called for fast, blind action on the first bailout bill, conventional thinking is lining up behind the Democrats, who have already been unconscionably laggard in providing the fund-dispersal oversight Congress promised.

At the risk of sounding arrogant, I think it worth noting that the free market is already beginning to take care of those mortgage assets, that the free market could also be the best means of getting an ultimately surviving auto industry to reinvent itself, that bailout mania could prove hugely destructive and that, at the very least, we ought to delay trying to resuscitate self-wounded Detroit until informed reason has had a chance to have its say.

Jay Ambrose is former Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard News Service.

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