When government tries to pick winners and losers, the inevitable consequence is corruption. Yes, corruption. If not in a legal sense, certainly in a moral sense.
Right now, subpoenas are flying, hearings are being held, and accusations are flooding the airwaves over the Solyndra deal. That may be appropriate. Something obviously smells rotten when $500 million in loan guarantees go to a single business with clear political connections. That would be scandalous under any circumstances, but when a bankrupt government underwrites a bankrupt business with dollars it doesn't really have, it is really scandalous.
But this one deal is not the issue. If someone broke the law, they should be punished. If people in government bent the rules, they should be fired. But Congress shouldn't be spending its time and our money trying to prove that, when the government is passing out goodies to the tune of $500 million, corruption happens. Anyone with a brain knows that to be the case, and we don't need a bunch of hearings and subpoenas to document the obvious.
And for my Republican friends in Washington who see the Solyndra disaster as a gift from partisan gotcha heaven, I would hasten to submit that this is not a partisan issue. Who among us can say that Republicans, when in power, have not passed out advantages to their friends -- whether they be industry-specific tax breaks, loan guarantees of their own, or any of the other dozens of federal benefits Washington has been selling for decades?
I've been trying to figure out what the "Occupy" protesters are protesting, so this week, while in New York, I took the time to visit the protesters and just talk to them. What I found is pretty straightforward: They are angry about a system that is being gamed for the benefit of a connected few. I also concluded that it is a mistake to dismiss these protests, as the Establishment is trying to do, as a bunch of malcontents.
The fact is, Americans are angry, and Wall Street may be as good a target as any. Why shouldn't we be protesting the fact that our tax dollars were used to bail out AIG and General Motors and a bunch of banks, while the rest of us -- who aren't too big to fail -- are left to sink or swim in an economy the politicians have strangled with deficit spending, over-regulation and punitive taxation?
At the end of the day, it is about the corruption that will always happen when government tries to bolster one industry, penalize another, or "stimulate" one sort of economic activity over another. If politicians are allowed to pick winners and losers, a corrupt system is unavoidable. Once government gets in the business of making decisions that should be left to the marketplace, it is off to the races for the special interests politicians love to decry but can't live without.
As I travel the country and talk to folks of all walks of life, it is clear that what Americans are demanding -- whether they are occupying Wall Street or not -- is that Washington stop helping us to death, and simply allow a level playing field for all to succeed or fail without the burden of a government that does too much and spends too much.
Scrap a tax code that has institutionalized preferential treatment to a degree that is irrevocable absent nuking the whole system and starting over. Stop passing out loan guarantees or "stimulus" monies that are nothing more than gargantuan favors for those the politicians smile upon. Just get out of the way and let America be America.
There is something really wrong when the President of the United States describes a $500 million loan guarantee that went horribly wrong as a bad bet. The issue isn't that it was a bad bet. The issue is that it is absurd that a bankrupt government is placing any bets. Period.
Solyndra was bad. But if the company had not gone belly-up, would it have been any less obscene? Would it have been OK if they had succeeded -- at the expense of all the rest of us suckers whose tax dollars and debt underwrote their success just because a few politicians deemed them worthy of our largesse?
The system is corrupt. There is no other way to describe it, and it's time we faced that simple truth. And maybe instead of dismissing or trying to manipulate the Occupiers to partisan advantage, we should all just go join them. All we need to agree about is that the status quo sucks.