Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Multitasking versus grandstanding

One of the compositors at the Journal-Courier of New Haven, back before it was subsumed into the New Haven Register, had an expression that is quite appropriate for the current political-economic situation.

"Never time to do it right; always time to do it over."

A compositor was a person who assembled the pages of a newspaper from the strips of words and the photos and other graphics. That work has long-since been taken over by computers, but these artists could make a page sing with a snip here and an idea there.

I've forgotten his name, but then again, I forget mine from time to time.

His work was like the attempt to assemble a bailout of the nation's economy. 

The pols and economist types who are trying to plug the hole in the nation's economic boat would do well to do heed his precept. After all, it took years to get into this fix. Greed played a part, and a mistaken belief that capitalists could police themselves.

 Another part was played by a real attempt to get large numbers of people to be homeowners that was co-opted by cynical, selfish people who could only think about what was in it for them.

The compositors advice works here: Take the time to do it right the first time. There is a huge amount of treasure involved. As the late Sen. Everett Dirksen said, "A billion here, a billion there and pretty soon you're talking about real money."

Tonight, the president goes on national television to plead for the bailout plan as presented. This plan calls for a great deal of trust. Trust must be earned. These guys have not earned any. The president couldn't sell water in the middle of the Sahara. Safeguards have to be put into place, even if it takes a little longer. "Never time to do it right..."

I agree with three of the Obama points on the bailout deal. The people who are ponying up this money need to get something out of it. There has to be regulation and somebody or some bodies to keep these guys honest. And there has to be a limit on how much these guys who got us into this mess in the first place can profit from it.

The demand for a bailout of mortgagees is less needed. These people knew, or should have known, that they couldn't afford the houses they were buying. There has to be accountability. So, if it can be worked out, fine. But don't hold the deal out for that. 

My wife and I worked too hard to lose our savings on account of stupid people who went blindly into loans they had no hope of repaying, save winning the lottery or holding up a Brinks truck. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Some people can only be renters. Sorry, but that's life.

Page 2

Today's maneuvering by the presidential candidates showed a lot about what we an expect from them. It showed their character, or rather the lack of character, by Sen. John McCain.

Let's review. About 8:30 this morning, Sen. Barack Obama's people called McCain's people and suggested, since their stands on the $700 billion bailout were so similar, why not issue a joint statement urging the Congress to be sure to include their wishes into the bailout. After all, one of these men would be in charge of shepherding these plans after Jan. 20. 

They were in touch during the day, working on a joint statement behind the scenes.

But McCain couldn't just be part of a joint statement being worked behind the scenes. He had to grandstand, had to go on television and say he was suspending his campaign, which now was about 10 points behind Obama's. He invited Obama to join him. 

McCain said he was going to Washington, after just one more speech, to sit down with leaders and help with the solution. This was too important to inject politics into the matter. He also called for a suspension of this week's first presidential debate. I wonder if it anything to do with his level of readiness for the debate. 

Of course, both McCain and Obama traveling to Washington and sitting in on the negotiations would do nothing but inject presidential politics into the equation. Their staffs would have to get photo ops of their candidates being presidential. It couldn't work.

McCain's statement made him look desperate, acting like Howdy Doody on speed.

After a few hours, Obama came out, calmly, and said he didn't think there was any need to suspend the campaigns. After all, the president just might have to tackle more than one problem at a time. The American people, he said, needed to see the men who would lead the nation and find out what their strategies might be. 

The debate, he said, should go on, although the subject matter might be changed from foreign policy to economics or a combination of the two. He was still interested in a joint statement and didn't accuse McCain of grandstanding, even though reporters were trying to goad him into doing just that. 

Obama calmly said that if he were needed in Washington, if he could do more than participate in photo ops,  he would drop everything and go. "We both have these big planes with our slogans painted on them," that could transport the candidate to and from Washington and to Mississippi for the debate and then back to Washington, if necessary.

Again, he said, the president should be able to handle more than one problem at a time. 

Multitasking or grandstanding. I guess we do have a clear choice when it comes to a presidential candidate. 

Until next time...

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