She was indignant. She frowned at me. “Why”, she said, “should I take off my shoes at an airport?” The discussion at my favorite downtown coffee house was going south. They were all looking at me. I was holding on to patriotic notions that airport security should do its best to prevent further attacks like 9/11. I don’t know, sounded like a good idea to me.
She was an Episcopal Priest. Her friend next to her was a former clergyman. I was surrounded with no where to hide. The best and the brightest, in front of me, grilling me on not just the unconstitutionality of the Patriotic Act, enacted by that ‘idiot’ (their words) George Bush and his henchmen, but it was the sheer inconvenience, she was saying, of having to stand in a line and remover her shoes. I looked under the table. Ordinary flats worn by thousands of middle aged women. No specially anointed brand that I could see, no insignia or label that gave them ‘Divine Right’ or anything like that.
“I don’t want to have to remove my shoes at the airport.” The indignity. Not to mention the ability to listen in on phone conversations and watch internet conversations (as technology permits) to protect us from the terror within. Tap phone calls without a judge issuing a warrant? The coffee house crowd deemed that not only potentially unconstitutional, but un-American. An innocent person could get rounded up! ‘I’m shocked, shocked’, and you know the rest of that famous conversation at another infamous Hollywood-made gathering post.
That was the Patriot Act debate, three years or so ago, and now I’ll be anxious to see the reaction to the new idea floated by Treasury Secretary Geithner, that should businesses display ‘unsound’ financial stability, the government ‘could dismantle (italics mine) companies whose failure threatens the nation's financial stability’. And she was outraged at having to remove her shoes in the name of national security? How are they gonna feel when their company gets padlocked when the government feels they’re threatening national ‘financial security’. Is there a difference?
Slap a retro-bonus tax on overpaid execs, issue union cards to the shop crews and lean on workers to sign up for the ‘union’ without the company having a say (management training routinely tells you that if your shop has a union organizing effort underway, you probably deserve to have your workforce represented), and now Geithner, who issued billions to AIG knowing they were paying execs millions in bonus’, wants the government to step in and, I love this word, ‘dismantle’ companies that threaten national financial security. It’s okay to shutter a business if they’re over the line with bonus’ or toxic loans, but whoa to the poor security guy at the airport with a wand and a metal detector suggesting we all remove our shoes so bad guys can’t fly planes into crowded buildings.
We should all be outraged at the pathetic performance of some of our most revered financial institutions. Some of us took out loans we couldn’t pay, whether for our primary residences or for that ‘second’ note to buy the boat or the timeshare. We know who we are. And I’m not qualified nor do I want to try and compare 911 with the economic meltdown.
What I am here to do is point out the frightening similarities of the national reaction. And, to some degree, the initial reaction of the American public. Post 911, it was all about getting the bad guys. George W stood at ground zero with a bullhorn and we knew he was right. Seven years later he was all but thrown out of the White House.
Post financial meltdown, Obama was swept (by a surprisingly narrow margin, in my opinion) in to the White House and is now leading a series of sweeping reforms. Yes, get the economy back on its feet. My doubts are strong about nationalizing healthcare insurance, but let’s create jobs and get our home loans back on track.
But this back-end ‘let’s go after the financial bad guys’ will bite Barack. It will bite us all. Regulation? Yes. Sound fiscal controls for both Wall Street and the US Government? Absolutely. Taking over financial institutions, ‘dismantling’ them when they show sounds of instability? Let’s wait on that one. True, we haven’t suffered a post-911 911, so I’m okay, and was okay, with the Patriot Act. Soldier on, I say. Take a similar watchdog approach against Wall Street with the power to dismantle, potentially nationalize crippled financial institutions? Careful. You fought the Patriot Act when you thought it too stringent and without proper controls to tether zealous federal agents listening in on phone calls. I want the same careful scrutiny from those that fought the ‘indignity’ about removing her shoes to be applied to the government's ability to take over struggling financial institutions. American’s can’t expect Wall Street to cozy up to financial bailout plans and go along with this idea that the government will take them down if they make a bad loan or write off some debt. GM and Ford have been doing that for years.
If you fought against the Patriot Act under the notion that it gives government too much power, apply the same principled scrutiny to Geithner’s ‘dismantling’ concept.
And try not to talk out of both sides of your mouth.