David Brooks is angry:
And let us recognize above all the 228 who voted no — the authors of this revolt of the nihilists. They showed the world how much they detest their own leaders and the collected expertise of the Treasury and Fed. They did the momentarily popular thing, and if the country slides into a deep recession, they will have the time and leisure to watch public opinion shift against them.
I have my own doubts about the opposition’s nobility of purpose, but is Brooks really prepared to argue that people like Marcy Kaptur didn’t have serious concerns about the bailout’s feasibility? Or do we now equate nihilism with a suspicion of hastily-conceived billion-dollar giveaways? With that in mind, here are a couple of useful tips for reducing the establishment’s credibility gap the next time we’re faced with a crisis:
1.) Per Daniel Larison, don’t repeatedly cry wolf and then expect us to take you seriously. After nearly eight years of fruitless warfare, amber alerts, indefinite detention, and incompetent management, we’re all a lot less likely to give any administration the benefit of the doubt (see also Andrew Sullivan’s latest column):
Even if the warnings of disaster were exaggerated, as I think they were and are, it can only further sap confidence in government that the nation’s political leadership and top technocrats bungled their handling of another vital issue. Populist backlash can stop poor legislation, but populists are still in no position to replace failed authorities, which suggests such a deep rift between the government and the public that the government cannot expect consent for anything controversial and the public has no faith in government promises.
For much of the time this rift goes unnoticed, but when the government needs to tap into a reserve of public trust — and wield moral authority for what it claims is necessary action in a crisis — it finds itself burdened instead by the toxic assets of all its past abuses of trust and power.
2.) Make the process more accountable and transparent. I’ll outsource this one to Thoreau at Unqualified Offerings (emphasis mine):
However strong the arguments for some sort of economic intervention might be, Greenwald nails all the problems with the way this has unfolded in the past few weeks. There may very well be some Ideal Platonic Bailout Bill that is right and proper and produces rainbows and puppies and punishes the wicked while protecting the innocent but deceived. The process we’ve seen over the past few weeks seems exceedingly unlikely to deliver anything remotely close to that.
UPDATE: But wait – this time the government’s diagnosis of the problem was absolutely correct the sky still hasn’t fallen! And to think some of us blithely assumed the administration couldn’t possibly do more to undermine its own credibility . . .
UPDATE II: In fairness, I should also note that economic hysteria is a bipartisan affair.