A sudden catastrophe, threat of a worse disaster if an exorbitant solution is not adopted immediately and exactly as requested, and the requirement that emergency action be subject to no supervision or check by a higher body. In short, a plan for a policy that changes the future of the country and yet is unaccountable and exempt from all opportunity for review.
Where has this happened before? Let us name just two. The September 11 attacks followed by the "permanent emergency" laws of the Patriot Act. And the nuclear Iraq forgeries and planted rumors to jolt the August-October 2002 debate on the authorization of the Iraq war--an authorization that exempted the president and vice president from future consultations with the Senate. But let us not forget the secret adoption of data mining procedures in violation of FISA in the years 2002-2005. The last had a smaller audience, but it, too, was a catastrophic cure enacted without consultation and on the same extreme-emergency basis.
Dick Cheney's signature is all over the controversial features of the Paulson bailout plan for the mortgage-and-securities crash. To a seasoned viewer it may also appear that John McCain's ploy of calling off the debate scheduled for this Friday has been coordinated with the same strategy. No debates at all until the plan is rammed through: that is the idea. Any searching discussion or challenge by the Democrats, amounts, it can be said, to a form of irrelevant "debate" or dithering. We are all in this together and we must solve it all at once on the terms the expert Henry Paulson has laid down.
The aim is to augment a real with a threatened catastrophe and so again achieve an immense consolidation of power. Newt Gingrich tried something akin to it in 1995, when he threatened to seal his Contract with America by closing all the operations of government. Dick Cheney was Gingrich's colleague in those years, at the American Enterprise Institute, and watched the process with interest. He may calculate that he has stronger nerves (and less short-term ambition) than Gingrich, and that the Democrats in Congress have less tenacity than President Clinton.
Some people have been wondering whether Dick Cheney and George Bush, to preserve their legacy and their secrets, would spring an October surprise to secure the election of John McCain--the clearest and almost the only urgent goal of this administration as it winds down. We have wondered whether the trigger could be in Georgia, or Iran, or Pakistan. Yet the banking crisis, in the manner of its management, now looks like the October surprise one week early and with one week longer to turn it to advantage. If the Democrats insist, as Barney Frank has lately announced they will, on rigorous oversight and explicit opportunities for review and caps on bailout profits by delinquent CEOs, will President Bush accept the result only to subvert it with the last and largest of his signing statements?