Michael Gerson covers the waterfront in assigning blame for the defeat of the original bailout package. Of the Democrats:
There can now be little doubt that Nancy Pelosi has an unrivaled record for lacking achievement. In retrospect, it seems incomprehensible that Democrats chose a grating, partisan San Francisco liberal to lead both parties in the House. During the bailout debate, Pelosi used her last breath to channel the shade of Henry Wallace, attacking conservative economics as a “right-wing ideology of anything goes, no supervision, no discipline, no regulation.” When one thinks of the skills of the speaker of the House, rubbing your face in it before a vital vote is not usually high on the list. House conservatives were insulted — then watched as some of Pelosi’s committee chairmen and closest political associates voted against the bill. Seeing Democrats saving their political hides provided little encouragement for Republicans to risk their own.
He does not spare the House GOP:
But whatever their provocations, pressures and justifications, House Republicans once again revealed the souls of backbenchers — spouting their ideological purity from atop the ruins of the financial system. The temporary government purchase of bad mortgage debt is not equivalent to the liquidation of the kulaks. Serious conservative thinkers such as Ryan and Cantor, who chose to work within the legislative process, got many of the improvements they sought. But most House Republicans with ideological objections had nothing better to propose and no intention to try. They chose allegiance to abstract principles over practical reality. It is the political philosophy of Samson: Bring down the entire temple to make a political point. In this case, the president, their own congressional leadership, their own presidential candidate and the world economy are now wounded and struggling amid the rubble. I suppose the point is made. But it is a reminder of why Republicans are no longer trusted as the congressional majority.
He concludes that we are headed for “a weak government populated by small men.” But that’s not right. We have something far worse: a very powerful government populated by small men. They may have tied themselves up in knots in this instance, but the power of the government (particularly one that might have a single party in charge of two elected branches) is huge. The sight of lawmakers who lurch this way and that depending on their office phone tally sheets ( “The calls now say people are in favor of the bailout!” “The tide turns!”) is not heartening. Rather it suggests an era of unprincipled and erratic rule is before us.
Legislative timidity was hardly the problem. It was, after all, an exercise in government bullying — lenders must extend credit to uncreditworthy borrowers, regulators who dared raise problems were harassed by Democratic protectors of Freddie and Fannie — which got us into this mess.
Certainly the gerrymandered House districts have made this problem worse. There is little consequence for hyper-aggressive partisanship. Nancy Pelosi’s constituents love it when she does her “Bush lied, our savings dived” routine. Likewise, when certain House GOP opponents don’t merely try to improve the bill but deny there is a crisis and oppose virtually any measure with a reasonable chance to pass their constituents and many in the conservative media cheer them on. Each live in their own political universe virtually immune from the consequences of their own behavior.
We are down to relying on the Senate — a body governed by arcane anti-democratic rules, less immune to day-to-day passions and lacking the problem of gerrymandered districts — to restore some sense of dispassionate evaluation. The Framers were onto something about tempering popular rule, we learn once again.
That is small consolation as we see dysfunctionality played out on a national scale and the relative inability of either presidential candidate to do much about it. In office perhaps one of them will have a better shot at governing from a workable center coalition. But first he’ll have to find it.