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The Search for a Bailout End Game

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We can't return, we can only look behind
From where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game

-Joni Mitchell

I've been opposed to every bailout plan. All of them.

It's not because I am a mean jerk. It's because I've never seen an end game.

I understand that the quicker the markets hit a bottom, the quicker we go back to the top.

Every bailout plan reminds me of an economic re-run of the Iraq war: There is a lot of panic. A hastily written plan sweeps through Congress without scrutiny. The plan is expected to "shock and awe" us.

We then find that the intervention created a bigger mess than we had before we started. Thus, we keep throwing more resources at it. The problems never go away and the ramifications will haunt the nation for decades.

The latest bailouts have been the economic version of "the surge."

It is time to start our withdrawal from bailouts just like we are withdrawing from the mess in Iraq.

Going back to the Wall Street bailouts, doing nothing would have been better than where we are. Government should have done one thing: protect bank depositors and insurance policyholders.

After that, it should have let the Citigroups and AIGs of the world play in the "free markets" that they so embraced when they wanted deregulation. .

Instead we propped them up. Now Citigroup and AIG are back looking for more.

If we had let them fold, we would already be on the rebound. Someone could have taken the leftover parts and started creating businesses that made sense.

Those businesses would be hiring instead of laying off.

We are going to get to a bottom, whether we go there slowly or quickly. Let's get there quickly and get it over with.

I was in favor of the public works project that I thought President Obama was proposing.

I supported President Obama and liked the idea that he was going to push a massive roads and bridges plan.

I didn't mind spending tax dollars to get a bridge or a road.

I was hoping for a nice bridge between Kentucky and Cincinnati, to replace one that is going to fall in the river someday.

I recently missed a couple of weeks of news when my power was knocked out by an ice storm. When I got back online, I saw a stimulus plan but I didn't see my bridge on the list anywhere.

Now we have a lot of things related to housing. Somebody in Washington might think it will stimulate the economy, but no one is going to buy a house unless he feels confident about his economic future.

Or unless the housing market hits bottom and it becomes impossible to pass up a bargain.

No one is going to feel confident until the markets have finished the boom and bust cycle. We had an overheated boom. Now we are having an overheated bust.

It is going to take time to work itself out.

I keep hoping someone in Washington 'gets it". I keep getting disappointed. Maybe it is because all of the people in Washington keep talking to other people in Washington.

As I mentioned, Obama was my guy. I didn't just want him to be President; I wanted him to be a great president.

Then he picked his economic team. It was a bunch of people who spent most of their lives in Washington or on Wall Street. They went to the same schools and get invited to the same dinner parties as the gang that just left town.

Somewhere on his team, I would like for President Obama to have an adviser who sold insurance in Minnesota or ran a corner grocery in Tennessee. Those are people who understand street level economics.

I understand the President's urge to pick "brand names." President Johnson felt the same when he was selecting leaders to run the Vietnam War.

Those who study that period of history will conclude that being surrounded by the "best and brightest' did not serve President Johnson all that well.

I feel a little lonely because my thoughts don't fit into either political party's doctrine. A lot of Republicans were preaching "free markets" when they really meant that they wanted big companies to be free to walk all over us.

Letting big corporations do what they please got us into this mess. It happened on President Bush's watch. The Wall Street bailouts were proposed by President Bush and his Secretary of the Treasury, Hank Paulsen.

The Republicans can't walk away and pretend it's not their problem. They helped get us here.

My friends in the Democratic Party don't like that I am not falling in line behind the President. For the country's sake, I want the President's plans to work. But so far, none of them have worked for me.

Some friends throw poll numbers at me, hoping that I will "go along with the crowd." When someone pushes me based on "being part of the gang," my mind goes back to the movie Man For All Seasons about the fight between Thomas More and Henry VIII.

Big moments in history are made by those who don't "go along with the crowd."

John Kennedy said that history should be the final judge of our deeds. I hope our elected leaders start thinking that way.

Nothing I am saying is historic. It is simple but takes political courage for our leaders to implement.

I want us to hit the bottom, bounce back and get on a better road. We are not going to bounce quickly if we keep trying to cushion the fall.

That puts me in a partisan limbo land.

Part of America is there with me. There has been a ton of media attention given to CNBC commentator Rick Santelli's rant about President Obama's housing proposal.

I watch CNBC every day (although I started watching some of Fox Business News because they don't yell as much) and Santelli has long been one of my favorites. He was opposed to the Wall Street bailout back when some of his co-workers stopped being journalists and started being Wall Street cheerleaders.

CNBC has been hyping the rant for ratings purposes, but it has been fascinating to see the strong reactions to Santelli, both pro and con.

The remarks of a television commentator surrounded by (mostly male and white) commodity traders is not a reflection of a true cross section of America. Nevertheless, Rick touched a nerve.

People either loved what he said or hated what he said. But few people were neutral.

Expect for maybe me.

I've seen Rick described as a modern day Howard Beale, the mad television anchor in the movie, Network.

The Network character I want to see step forward is Ned Beatty's Arthur Jensen, who tells Beale, "You have meddled with the primal forces of nature and you will atone!"

Each time we do another form of government bailout, we are meddling with the primal forces of economic nature.

And every time we do, the economy is making us atone.

It is time to let the markets reach their natural bottom and end the days of atonement.

Don McNay, CLU, ChFC, MSFS, CSSC is the Founder of McNay Settlement Group in Richmond, Kentucky. He is an award winning, syndicated financial columnist and the author of Son of a Son of a Gambler and the Unbridled World of Ernie Fletcher. McNay is Treasurer for the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.