This morning, we all totally thought a rescue bill was going to happen. Then it didn’t, and we were like, wait, what? In retrospect, we can think of at least four reasons why things didn’t pan out.
1. Bad Marketing It was bad enough that Treasury Secretary Paulson came out of the gate, hysterical, with a flimsy two-page proposal asking for $700 billion, no questions asked, like some kind of bank robber 2.0. Even after the outcry over that, the administration failed to explain its plan in an adequate way. “From the start, the Bush administration did not do enough to emphasize the point that taxpayers would get at least some of the money back,” writes Ben Pershing in the Washington Post, “and that gigantic price tag got stuck in the head of the public (and the media).” We would add that it didn’t help that last week, a Treasury Department spokesperson admitted to Forbes that the $700 billion figure was “not based on any particular data point … We just wanted to choose a really large number.”
Naturally, that didn’t sit well with:
2. Constituents Most Americans, it must be said, have never understood the mechanics and therefore the gravity of this situation. Hell, we even doubt that most congressmen do. This shit is complicated. There was one metric that stuck, though, and that was the one in which a handful of fat cats on Wall Street, the guys with the fancy suits and the Cristal and the big sprawling mansions in Greenwich, had fucked up, and now the government, who had fucked up by not regulating them, was trying to make regular people pay for it. That pissed the American people right the hell off. The most active of them fired off letters to their congressmen: “NO BAILOUT, I am a registered republican,” one constituent wrote, to Candice S. Miller, a conservative Republican from Michigan. “I will vote and campaign hard against you if we have to subsidize the very people that have sold out MY COUNTRY.” That they didn’t realize they were going to be paying for it either way was also a failure of politicians, who didn’t ever really move beyond platitudes like “We’re not bailing out Wall Street, we’re bailing out Main Street” to explain what that actually meant.
3. Politics As if the overwhelming negative reaction from their constituents in an election year wasn’t enough to scare the crap out of Congress, there was also the fact that some of them, namely Republicans, were grappling with an existential as well as fiscal crisis: They’d supported deregulation their entire lives! Now they were supposed to chuck it all and become socialists? To side with the Democrats? Could. Not. Compute. And so, no: It did not help that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi cloaked herself in bipartisanism and then took the opportunity, before the vote this morning, to gloat about the “failed economic leadership … of the past eight years” and rub it in that, “In the new year, with a new Congress and a new president, we will break free with a failed past and take America in a New Direction to a better future.” That Barney Frank has been snide toward the Republicans he is supposed to be working in tandem with, and just said, of the GOP members who complained about Pelosi’s speech, “Because somebody hurt their feelings, they decide to punish the country. I mean, I would not have imputed that degree of pettiness and hypersensitivity,” also does not help. Why taunt them? Who’s petty, again?
Which brings us to:
4. The President The fact that early in his presidency George Bush pushed through a bill that led us into a quagmire of a war has been forgotten by exactly no one. The American people have very little faith in George Bush. Very few people believe he knows what he is doing, even those who want to. His approval ratings are at an all-time low. The appearances he made on behalf of the bailout were short and shallow. There’s a freaking movie about to come out about him in which he is represented dancing on a bar and drinking a beer through a funnel, for the love of God. His support was ultimately more of a negative than a positive.