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Joe Cutbirth Headshot

Our National Sue Simmons Moment

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Like a lot of Americans, I'm watching the White House and Congress preside over this national economic disaster, and it's got me pretty worked-up.

I'm also disgusted with the frame corporate media have constructed for the whole mess beginning with the cadre of recognizable, well-heeled Henny Pennys parading onto the morning talk shows and holding court on the evening cable circuit.

I just want to face Washington, D.C., and shout the iconic phrase immortalized last summer by WNBC anchor Sue Simmons: "...tha F@#$ are you doing?"

Look, this is serious. I fully understand the sky really may fall, if it hasn't already. Roughly $1.2 trillion - an amount the size of the entire Indian economy - vanished yesterday. That ain't just scratch.

But at least for now, I'm standing with the 205 House members who voted against the bill. They weren't all Republicans, and this isn't two or three senators working a filibuster. There is a real constituency here.

I'm standing even stronger against the rush to demonize these Americans - frame them, as David Gergen did last night - as irresponsible ideologues, Kamikaze malcontents or proverbial flies in the $700 billion ointment.

This isn't just a crisis in the financial markets. It's a crisis of democratic leadership - and it begins with the arrogant, patronizing assumption in Washington that citizens in this democracy don't know what is best for them and that in times of national crisis elected officials must act for us instead of with us.

I am a liberal, and damn it, I want the government to act. I'm not opposed to a huge, sweeping bill, but the way this went down on Monday was bullshit. I want my elected representatives, the chief executive of the country and the candidates who want to be chief executive for the next four years to listen to me before they decide what to do, not simply talk at me before and afterward.

The biggest scandal in this so far (and I promise there will be more) was that Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner struck "the deal" and Pelosi brought it to the floor for a vote without a single public meeting or even a perfunctory congressional hearing on this whole matter.

No wonder it crashed and the stock market followed.

We have a lame duck president whose chief strategy seems to be to run into the Rose Garden every few days for about two minutes at a time and blurt out some made-for-the-pool-report sound bite.

If there were one bulb burning in that entire administration, Bush would have seized the moment two weeks ago, gone to Congress and delivered a nationally televised State-of-the-Union type address, where he presented details of a comprehensive plan to address the crisis and asked all 535 members to talk with people in their districts so they could act swiftly and responsibly on behalf of the American people.

Instead, we get the Kabuki theatre of the Secretary of the United States Treasury getting on one knee in front of Pelosi somewhere near the House caucus room.

Then there is the whole question of why in God's name Pelosi even brought a bill of this magnitude to the floor without an iron clad guarantee she had the votes to pass it. (Don't get me started on what possessed her to deliver the remarks she did right before the vote. This is a time to bring Americans together, not poke people in the eye.)

In her defense, I don't believe for one second that Pelosi's remarks, which frankly weren't that caustic, moved a dozen members to change their minds. The stakes here are so much larger than that.

If that were the case, we would have seen at least a half dozen of those representatives on television immediately afterward or quoted in The New York Times today discussing that turning point in the debate.

Which brings me as always to one final plea to the national media. Enough with the Casablanca approach. Do more than just "round up the usual suspects." Instead of helping Washington politicians talk at us, help us talk to each other and let them know what we are talking about.

I don't care about the tedious, predictable remarks Gergen, Rahm Emanuel and Harold Ford Jr. are offering, or the alternatively smarmy and bombastic insider baseball peddled by Peggy Noonan, Keith Olberman and Pat Buchanan.

There is a very real movement out here, and it needs to work out its fears and its anger over this situation, and the first step to doing that is for citizens to start talking to each other. To their friends and neighbors, and yes, eventually to people they don't know as well and with whom they may not agree right away.

Where are the MSNBC town hall meetings that popped up over and over right after Sept. 11? How about a series of national reports in The Times and Wall St. Journal that don't include one single elected official or candidate for office?

It's a perfect opportunity for citizen journalists on Huffington Post and elsewhere to get "Off the Bus" and rise to the occasion. Stop sneaking into campaign fundraisers, and walk boldly into the living rooms and dens of American families.

Gergen was onto something last night when he told Anderson Cooper that in times of great crisis he believes people eventually rise to the occasion and do the right thing. I agree.

The difference between me and Gergen is that his hopes lie with members of Congress and the administration. Mine lie with the citizens of this country and hard-working journalists dedicated to doing the job Madison and Jefferson had in mind when they drafted the First Amendment.