Our surefooted Congress has proved with utter clarity that it is over-matched by events. With the collapse of the real estate bubble and the concomitant financial fizzle out, neither party has shown much evidence of having a clue. And yet, the US auto crisis has provided emasculated Senate Republicans with a way to 'shine' in a whole new way. Rather than performing their appointed task of being loyal opposition at a time of great national need, they are instead opting for the role of political spoiler.
Perhaps, I am overreacting. Republicans, after all, are supposed to be small-government, free-market enthusiasts. And yet it's hard to fit that description to a group who rejected TARP as too expensive at $600 billion but acceptable at $750 billion. In comparison, the interim auto package would have cost about 2% of the amount given to Wall Street.
That poses a problem for the Republicans: they could not object for quantitative reasons. Instead, they went after both management and workers, calling the former inept and the latter greedy. Now, being of generally sound mind, I am not going to defend the merits of management at Detroit's Big Three. They have clung to the past and made stunning errors. In the process, they have lost the confidence of American buyers. I would, however, argue that they are no worse than the Wall Street moguls who delivered a head-shot to the US economy. The latter situation will require both economists and historians to calculate the damage that has been inflicted upon the globe. (On a positive note, Oliver Stone's Wall Street suddenly feels rather quaint.)
When it comes to the UAW, the Republican are vilifying working people for having the audacity to want to hold on to health insurance and secure retirements. For most of the past 60 years, such things were cornerstones of the post-War (II) American dream, but now they are seen as selfish. I would remind everyone that these are blue collar workers, not the people driving up the price of Bordeaux futures or building McMansions. And yet, Republican Senators with benefits, decent pay and the almost certainty of lucrative lobbying careers are cocky enough to sneer at the UAW.
If such behavior were merely the result of stupidity, it might be forgivable. True, the Senate probably does not need a MENSA chapter, but not all Republic senators are stupid. They are, however, seemingly willing to sacrifice one of the last vestiges of US heavy industry to facilitate their own political rehabilitation. I would wager that they are betting that the Democrats and the Bush administration - once their awe inspiring leader - will have no choice but to find a way to save the auto industry without the involvement of GOP senators. That leaves the party of Lincoln free to hurl bile across the party the line with no danger of dribbling on themselves. And if Detroit does sink, then the incoming administration will simply have a bigger mess to clean up. Either way, Democrats won't seem so wonderful.
Republicans, 2012 is a long way-off. You will have plenty of legitimate issues to fight over. In the meantime, your nation could use your help. And that's why I would ask you to remember that a banker is no prettier than an auto worker.
Follow Michael B. Laskoff on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AbilTo