- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 10, 2009

They tell us we are being very, very good. The pollsters report you and I are now finally saving more than we did before our economic meltdown (and congratulations to us!).

Thirty-year-old TV announcers soberly outline for us how we can get jobs again; and a seemingly unending series of unsolicited phone calls and e- mails keeps offering me every possible kind of mortgage on my home except one that involves giving me a house free.

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News reporters tell us how some homeowners are hosting “gold parties,” where neighbors can bring Aunt Minnie’s gold necklace and Uncle Ignatz’s gold pocket watch and sell them by the ounce to dour men they have never seen before. And the Zogby polls breathlessly report that 70 percent of Americans have cut back on entertainment, 39 percent have pared down vacation plans and 40 percent have cut grocery spending.

Yes, we are being very good. For the greatest part, we Americans are barely even complaining. Those newspapers still publishing write about our fellow citizens being angry - but where is any expression of it? (I wondered the same thing when the Iraq war started.) And for the greatest part, nobody is marching against anybody or anything.

But are we, in fact, being good, or are we just being saps? As this drear drama drones on, developing into a melodrama in which we are already beginning to experience a second level of losses building upon the first level, I have come to opt for the second choice: We are simply being saps. One wonders, “Why, why, why?”

Let’s look, first, at where we are at this particular moment. We know personal and financial corruption spread across virtually all of our big international banks, investment houses and institutions before our financial world began to collapse last year. That was the first level. After that, we were told that stimulus plan after stimulus plan would somehow, if only way down the line, begin to right the economy and repay our losses.

But now I suspect we are at the second level, and it is not pretty. We hear how a great deal of power is either still held by many of the same people who gave us this crisis or is being exercised anew by those same people.

The New York Times writes exhaustively in a Page One article that a dozen former top executives of Countrywide Financial, one of the worst of the risky loaners, are back, making millions from the home mortgage mess they helped create. Stanford Kurland, Countrywide’s former president, and his team “have been buying up delinquent home mortgages that the government took over from other failed banks,” and it is, in the words of one of the company’s top executives, “off-the-charts good.”

At the same time, the Wall Street Journal tells how people are making lots of money ($100 to $300 an hour) recording messages for companies telephoning delinquent customers to demand payments. First, they are very nice, cajoling; then they become demanding and ultimately threatening. Maybe that’s a job the 30-year-old TV announcers had in mind for us?

Now, I was not here during the Depression, but I know from our family stories that my honorable father, proprietor of a successful small dairy on the South Side of Chicago, unselfishly helped everyone he could.

When our national tragedy struck last year and we all-too-slowly began to realize what had been done to us, I thought of him and hoped this shared crisis would also bring out the best in people. But I haven’t seen much of that. Nor am I seeing, most unfortunately, the Obama administration using its capacity to weed out and punish those guilty for this crisis in order to restore, not only some sense but also a modicum of justice in this country.

One worries that the Obama stimulus plan is not precise enough - it does not target or take over the bad banks with the toxic assets. One worries that the bill is too loaded with Democratic Party social welfare programs when we should be focused like a laser on restoring the health of our economy first.

One begins to worry that this man, so talented, gifted and decent, may not, in the end, have enough of the Franklin Roosevelt meanness in front of his enemies, that he will not protect us from them or destroy them, and instead try to moderate and work through things.

But I worry about the country, too. I worry about us. It’s nice to praise diversity and multiculturalism, but one has to wonder whether the mad diversity of this country - in which not even the English language is now considered central, much less sacred - has not brought us to a place where we are not boiling in anger together against what has been done to us.

Had the worst banks been immediately taken over by the government, there would have been a true, broad sense of shame among these men in the financial world for what they have done to us all, and we might not now be coming across as such timid people: saving up, cutting back on entertainment, selling the family gold. How “good” we are!

The president needs to do more than he has done. He needs to lead a shame brigade; he needs to restore a sense of justice for the average decent American. Men who should be in jail should not be boasting about their new deals on the front pages of America.

Georgie Anne Geyer is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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