Giving Up

Last year, in the heat of the primary, Barney Frank wrote a very important essay on the "partisan fights of the 90s." In light of the Obama Justice Department's decision to defend DOMA in Federal court, I would like to briefly revisit that essay.

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In Defense Of Partisan Bickering or On Why Barney Frank Rocks

On This Week With George Stephanopoulos this morning, Sen. Jim DeMint got pummeled by Barney Frank, as Blue Texan rightfully notes. But there was more going on there than the debate between two diametrically opposed worldviews. Did you notice Google CEO Eric Schmidt attempt to shut that debate down? Now, he didn't literally shut either DeMint or Frank up but he repeatedly took Frank and DeMint to task for...arguing...on a debate show.

Take this exchange between Schmidt and Frank:

SCHMIDT: And, by the way, you guys need to get this thing fixed. What we need is very simple. We need some form of a jobs program, something that causes jobs to get created, and we need credit to get -- get going again. That's what we should be talking about as a country. And we can debate exactly how to do it, but get it going now.

FRANK: Well, excuse me. You dismissed...wait, it's called democracy, Eric. I'm sorry, but it's inevitable.

Followed later by this:

SCHMIDT: Chairman, the fact of the matter is, that if the government simply told everybody what you all were doing...and then people could track it and figure out whether it's actually working...

FRANK: But we are going to do that.

SCHMIDT: ... we could get through these classic fights that you all have.

FRANK: Well, no, I differ -- differ with you on that. Please. Let's not obviate democracy. There are legitimate different philosophical differences between Jim DeMint and myself. Please don't treat them as some sideshow.


Now, on substance I agree with most of what Schmidt said on the show but the subtext of Schmidt's complaints here is the classic "partisan bickering is the reason nothing gets done in Washington." Yawn. Give me a break. Glad to see Barney Frank shut Schmidt down.

You see, this idea that partisan bickering is what's wrong with Washington is an invention of the Village denizens in order to perpetuate the myth that both parties are equally to blame for the last eight years and thus immunize themselves against the (accurate) charge that they enabled the real perpetrators of the disaster we're trying to dig ourselves out of: the Republican extremists who ran this country for 8 years.

In fact, the lack of debate for fear of its being labeled "partisan bickering" is one of the ills that's plagued Washington. Just think what might have been different if there had been MORE debate about the destructive post-9/11 Bush policies and if Democrats had stood up to Bush and the Republicans when they were popular rather than caving at every turn. Also, consider all those people who voted for George W. Bush or, perhaps more significantly, Ralph Nader in 2000 because "there's no difference between the two parties."

As Blue Texan observes:

The stark contrast between the two parties was on full display this morning.


So, while Schmidt overall clearly agreed with Frank more than DeMint on This Week, his perpetuation of the myth that Frank's and DeMint's arguing is the real problem rather than the fact that DeMint represents a failed governing philosophy and a caucus intent on obstructing rather than working with Democrats to solve America's problems is really unhelpful.

More of this please:

DEMINT: One is for the government to take it out of the private sector through taxes and then decide where it's going to go through political manipulation, as they've done in the House. The other is just to leave more money in the private sector for consumers to spend and businesses to invest.

And that's the American way. And that's -- that's the approach we're pushing. [...]

FRANK: I regret Senator DeMint saying that this is the American way. Let's -- let's just agree that we're all Americans here, Jim, and that nobody's got the American way versus presumably the non-American way.

And as far as spending versus tax cuts, I think we need to fix some highways and bridges. I never saw a tax cut fix a bridge. I never saw a tax cut give us more public transportation. The fact is, we need a mix.

We need -- and I think we've suffered from an extremism in this country in the past of relying only on private-sector activity and having too little government. It's possible to have too much government, no question. But it's possible to have too little. And some parts of this stimulus -- extending unemployment benefits, helping with food stamps -- you know, we have two purposes here. One is to stimulate the overall economy. The other is to go to the aid of some people who, through no fault of their own, have been damaged. You can't just look at the aggregates. [...]

FRANK: The largest spending bill in history is going to turn out to be the war in Iraq. And one of the things, if we're going to talk about spending, I don't -- I have a problem when we leave out that extraordinarily expensive, damaging war in Iraq, which has caused much more harm than good, in my judgment.

And I don't understand why, from some of my conservative friends, building a road, building a school, helping somebody get health care, that's -- that's wasteful spending, but that war in Iraq, which is going to cost us over $1 trillion before we're through -- yes, I wish we hadn't have done that. We'd have been in a lot better shape fiscally. [...]

FRANK: I also disagree that we're taking money, quote, "out of the economy" if we improve public transportation, if we improve highways. That's your concept. You're taking money out of the economy if you make sure a bridge doesn't fall down.

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Hot Potato: Who Will Own TARP?

TPM's new Hill reporter, Elana Schor, is worried that Dems might not pass TARP-specific accountability legislation, and instead take the Obama administration at its word:

How would progressives react if these were Republican lawmakers agreeing to take the word of John McCain -- or any Republican president succeeding George W. Bush? Would the response be universal alarm at Congress failing to exert even minimal oversight powers?

A fair question, but I think this hands-off approach from Dems might show nervousness about a different kind of accountability: political.

In last week's New Yorker profile, Rep. Barney Frank (the House's economic point man) recalled a relevant conversation with Obama right before the staged "bailout" meeting in the White House that McCain "suspended" his campaign for:

"Barack said, `I think we need to go ahead with this,' " Frank recalled. "He was being conciliatory, because he thinks it's very important for us, both in public policy and politically, that we don't get blamed for fucking up the economy. And that we not fuck up the economy."

In this time of crisis, everyone (understandably?) wants to cover their behind. Any stimulus package won't deliver its peak assistance until 2010, but the public could start holding Dems accountable for the economy well before then (with the willing help of malicious Republicans and a clueless media). So Dems want as many Republicans on-board as possible to diffuse the ownership.

But without the election-season complications of an unpopular lame-duck President, Republicans are already folding their cards; they want nothing to do with TARP spending.

So if Dems worry they might be the only ones voting for a bill, maybe we'll get no bill at all.

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Democrats assail Obama for failure to shed "elect"

"At a time of great crisis with mortgage foreclosures and autos, he says we only have one president at a time," Frank said. "I'm afraid that overstates the number of presidents we have. He's got to remedy that situation."

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Thank God for Barney Frank

The first sign I saw that the adults were taking over was a quote Wednesday from Barney Frank, referring to Fed Chairman Bob Bernanke he said:

I asked the chairman if he had $85 billion to bestow in this way. He said "I have $800 billion."

No one in a democracy unelected should have $800 billion to dispense as he sees fit.

Frank and his allies in the Senate have been clear for years time that the government must step in, in more than a regulatory way, to resolve the mortgage crisis that has now spread throughout Wall Street and the world. In a longer article at Politico Frank outlined the pressing problem, and likely solutions:

The easy part going forward is regulation, but how do you survive to where you can have regulation and keep bad things from happening? It's not clear.

Everything else having been tried, does the federal government have to buy up a lot of the bad stuff? It's the good bank/bad bank notion. The federal government has to take up the bad stuff to unclog these arteries, hold it, hope that there will be some recovery in assets, and get the thing going.

That's the next question. I don't know what else you can do.

So far the Bush administration's approach to the crisis is best described here:
people are standing by the side of a river and they keep seeing babies being rushed down the river in the current and they desperately reach out trying to save as many babies as possible. Day after day they're reaching out. They get new tools, they build a bridge, they get a ladder, they're constantly trying to get to those babies. They're hoping that they can save as many, until finally somebody walks up and says, "Who's throwing them in? Go upriver, find out what the real problem is and stop that!"

Finally last night the Bush administration began taking good advice and looked upriver. They have suspended the short selling of financial and insurance stocks and Bernanke and Paulson are presenting their plan for a government entity like an RTC or FDR era HOLC to take on the bad assets drowning brokers and banks. Congress is moving rapidly to adopt Frank and his allies plans, probably by next week.

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