The Loyal Opposition

According to Politico and the Washington Post, lawmakers are on the cusp of awarding a $700 billion bailout to the financial industry. I no longer have the energy to snark about Congress’s enthusiasm for corporate welfare; I’m more interested in the abject failure of Republicans (John McCain in particular) to oppose the deal.

As if on cue, John Schwenkler asks:

Did Henry Paulson really have everyone that terrified when he shut them all in a room and launched into his best Colin-Powell-at-the-UN impression? Do McCain and the rest of them really have that much faith in federal officials, that they were willing to ignore the widespread outcry among elites and non-elites alike? And if so, what does all of this say about the state of things in Washington?

In my view, McCain’s crisis-driven mentality is ill-suited to carefully weighing his options in the midst of our current debacle. I also think that McCain was caught in a political bind when he suspended his campaign to return to Washington, thereby committing himself personally to the success (or failure) of the proposed bailout. As I wrote at the time:

Can you imagine McCain suspending his campaign only to announce that there won’t be a bailout, or that Congress needs more time to evaluate its options? Of course not, which means the resulting legislation will feature minimal oversight, lots of really bad compromises, and a possible carte blanche for the Treasury Department. Granted, silly legislative compromises are the sort of thing McCain specializes in, but can we really afford his approach to our current financial mess?

Note also that McCain’s opposition to spending has always been premised on questions of efficiency or corruption, not on any principled distaste for excessive government meddling. Earmarks aren’t offensive to McCain because they waste taxpayer money; they’re offensive because they smack of dishonorable political deal-making. Say what you will about Paulson’s technocratic style, but I doubt he’ll be caught funneling federal dollars into his personal Swiss bank account.

Mismanagement is another issue that betrays McCain’s fundamental lack of distrust for government intervention. In this regard, his response to the Iraq War is an instructive case study. McCain’s criticisms of the occupation (greatly exaggerated in retrospect) were all directed at our tactical and operational failures, not at the war’s strategic justification. If you think the United States military is capable of remaking a Middle Eastern country’s political culture, I don’t see why you’d harbor serious doubts about the Treasury Department’s ability to “manage” our current fiscal crisis.

As for the Republicans, perhaps they’ve become so acclimated to the Admiral Farragut Doctrine of Crisis Management that they can no longer muster the political will to oppose a hastily-conceived government bailout. Given the obvious political upside of opposing a deal that will probably pass anyway, what did they have to lose?

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Filed under Conservatism, Economics

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