Good Government

Patrick B. McGuigan | November 4, 2008

Bailout Fallout

Patrick B. McGuigan

Thomas Paine was wrong about many things, but right when he said the American Revolution was a time that tried men’s souls. Today we face times to try the souls of even the best and strongest women and men.

These comments are intended for the human heart, not for balloting. In a volatile election year, a time Oklahoma author Marc Nuttle deems a “moment of truth,” American conservatives have lived through what Charles Dickens deemed the best of times, and the worst of times.

Those paying attention went from despondency as the preferred candidates of most conservatives faded in spring primaries, to near-euphoria after Sen. John McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate, then back to despair as the breadth of the massive federal bailout of banks and lenders became clear in late September.

No one is being marched to the guillotine, and most of us won’t have to worry, as do our soldiers in Baghdad or Kabul, whether or not we will face a hail of terrorist bullets on the next drive or walk. But still, the last few months in America, with a whirlwind reaped from bad seeds planted over decades, were consequential.

Nuttle told a group of friends at a recent luncheon at OCPA that one U.S. Senate staffer told him the choice faced in the bailout decision was not between bad and good, but between “worse and worser.” That’s bad grammar, but a good point. A time of crisis, more than any other, compels that we turn to ways of wisdom, looking at the totality of issues, and the importance of fundamental principles.

Whether the cost is $700 billion or $2.5 trillion, no one really knows what dramatic federal maneuvers will yield. Maybe the government will eventually make the money back, as was the case with earlier Chrysler and S&L bailouts—bad economics but perhaps tolerable public policy. Maybe bad debt will provide a way to leverage more Americans into equity.

The next few years will tell if America will join Europe in democratic socialism, or turn back to traditions of “American exceptionalism,” a sense of destiny and purpose rooted in liberty and a federalist system. Nothing is inevitable, but conservatives better act as if they mean it when they say, “Never again.”

Times such as these might educate us on the limits of politics, and the wisdom of that federalist system. We might concentrate on these things: hearth, home, personal behavior, neighborly living, and direct engagement with those around us. In such arenas, we are best equipped to deal with what comes down upon us from Washington, or elsewhere.

In the end, after a lot of suffering and economic failures, rough times might, in the design of Providence, resurrect deeper appreciation for neighbors and friends, and political engagement in which we talk to—not at or past—fellow citizens.

Such things might as well begin right here in Oklahoma. In the voice of one memorable character in “The Lord of the Rings,” the late J.R.R. Tolkien reflected that none of us can choose the times in which we live. What we can do is decide what to do with the time we have left.

Patrick B. McGuigan

Independent Journalist

A member of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame, Patrick B. McGuigan is founder of CapitolBeatOK, an online news service, and editor of The City Sentinel, an independent newspaper. He is the author of three books and editor of seven, and has written extensively on education and other public policy issues.

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