Commentary Magazine


You Guys Are Freaking Us Out

It is a scary time to be in Washington. If you doubt it, check out the president’s language. As George Will reminds us:

The president, convinced that the only thing America has to fear is an insufficiency of fear, has warned that “disaster” and “catastrophe” are the certain alternatives to swift passage of the stimulus legislation.

Then there is Tim Geithner. Day Two of his bank bailout roll-out non-plan went as poorly as Day One, as he took to muttering and deflecting, never providing a detail or hint as to what he really has in mind. He kept repeating how complicated everything is. Well, yes, the Treasury Department is that way. I have to agree with Gail Collins who observes:

Everybody who watched Geithner explain how he was going to rescue the banking system thought he sounded like a callow youth. Where’s gravitas when you need it? Time to bring on Paul Volcker (81).

One can only hope this was some kind of practical joke from Larry Summers, gone awry. (“Yeah, and when they ask for details, just tell ’em I don’t have any!'”)

This is an odd way indeed to combat a recession. Usually, the president and treasury secretary in an economic crisis try to project calm, certainty, and a sense of command. The Obama administration approach is something new indeed. Perhaps it is some Zen-like exercise to “be the panic; own the fear!” Whatever they are doing they should knock it off. They’re going to scare the living daylights out of markets, consumers, and businesses.

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