I was extremely confused by Bush's rosy economic speech. Here my local bank, IndyMac, is collapsing, with distraught customers waiting in line for hours last week to get their money. Gas at my neighborhood pump has surged to nearly $5 a gallon, the price of oil plunging aside. California's unemployment rate just jumped to a new dispiriting high of nearly 7 percent. Then friends are losing their jobs because a real estate mogul is having his own billion-dollar cash meltdown and can't pay his debts. And well, why does a major American newspaper need all those journalists anyway?
And recently the New York Times reported that people worried about losing their homes are shopping for roommates so they can make the mortgage. Good thing we've got a full basement and I know a few college kids because the way things are going it just might come to that.
But Bush thinks we're all going to be OK. And the two-term president who didn't realize that gas hit 4 bucks a gallon long after most teenagers were begging their parents for more gas money must know what he's talking about. It's simply our attitude that's wrong.
Even as fed chairman Ben Bernake was working strenuously to avoid using the word "recession," Bush was telling Americans not to fret. We're only going through a "time of uncertainty," the president insisted. Those failing banks and mortgage lenders are actually a sign that the financial markets are "basically sound."
I wonder what it would take for Bush to admit the country's in crisis and to do something serious about it. Other than tell people to head over to the mall or to give us a pep talk. Which doesn't seem to have solved the foreclosure crisis or shored up the banks any. But then this would require Bush to interact with ordinary Americans a little. To see their pain.
Like the middle-aged woman in a pantsuit I saw in front of the pharmacy a few mornings ago. I had to pick up a prescription. (Which, speaking of skyrocketing consumer costs, would have cost $130 more if I didn't have such fabulous, high-priced health insurance.) She was sitting on the concrete leaning against a wall. She looked dazed, her hair was sticking out and her skin was red and splotchy -- the way people's faces are when they've been in the elements too long. She looked like someone's wife or mother who had fallen on hard times. I had never seen her before, but I'm seeing more and more people like her in my neighborhood.
She didn't look up when I walked by. She was too busy eating ravenously out of a pudding cup.