Wednesday, November 19, 2008

When up is down

So now, or so I hear, it's the Big Three Detroit automakers who are "too big to fail." About two months ago, just after Lehman Brothers collapsed and the nation's huge financial, insurance and banking companies came begging, in all their exquisitely tailored and manicured glory, hats-in-hand, for their share of a $750 billion rescue package that Congress was told to authorize by Secretary of Treasury Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chief Ben Bernanke, the chief executives from General Motors, Ford and Chrysler sneaked through the kitchen entrance to ask for (and get) $25 billion in loan guarantees to save their companies from their mismanagement. Now, six weeks later, the Big Three heads of state want $25 billion more in loans to save their companies because it's not clear that they'll get the $25 billion they've already asked for. They want their money for the very same reason that AIG and what's left of the banking and financial sectors wanted theirs -- the Big Three are indeed Big, so Big that they're . . . too . . . Big . . . to fail.

Too big to fail? Let's rephrase the question by beginning with a more accurate statement:

The American automobile companies have failed. Detroit has made terrible cars for as long as I can remember. Growing up, my family started buying Japanese cars in 1979 and never turned back. Neither my wife nor I have owned an American car since 1988. My in-laws turned the corner in 1989. If Americans put as much time and effort into researching an automobile purchase as they did, say, a new Dustbuster or cell phone plan by combing through every Consumer Reports or Amazon customer review of the last however-many years, no one -- and I mean no one -- could possibly conclude that buying an American car makes sense.

For Chrysler, this is its second trip down the aisle asking for a federal bailout, having scored big in 1979 when Lee Iacocca, who was Ross Perot before Ross Perot and Mitt Romney before Mitt Romney became Ross Perot -- never mind -- sweet-talked Congress into guaranteeing loans from private lenders. That established the template for the next generation of what I've decided to call "socio-capitalists," or capitalists who operate on socialist economic principles, to come begging for relief.

I could go on, talking about the irony of the Big Three bosses stepping off their private chartered jets in Washington and then traveling by limousine over to Capitol Hill to begin their beg-a-thon that puts the annual "Save PBS" telethons to shame. At least we get a cappucino (naturally) cup for donating to PBS. And underwriting the Big Three will mean . . . what . . . to me? I don't honestly know how much of this works. But I do have a fairly competent understanding of English grammar. The phrase "to fail" to describe something that "has failed" is wrong.

* * * * * * * * * *

I haven't quite decided what Cabinet position I want to take in the Obama administration. Part of me thinks running the Justice Department might be fun. But I'd have to go to law school at night and that might mean having to skip my adult hockey games, pass up a gig or buy the iTunes versions of "The Office" and "30 Rock" at a faster clip than I already do. Plus, I probably wouldn't have time to watch them, given the demands of the job. And I've already paid my fees for the hockey season, which still has five months to go. There's travel involved, having to get up early every day and put on a suit, and . . . oh, fuck it -- let someone else do it.

Now I know how Hillary Clinton must feel. Choices, choices, choices. Should Hillary take the "floated" offer to serve as Secretary of State in the Obama administration? That gets a big "Hell, no!" from me. Then again, I'm not a fan.

But I must admit I have to admire someone who somehow manages to end up on the short list of every major job opening not on Craig's List or the American Political Science Association e-newsletter. Senate seat coming open in New York? Viva la Hillary! President of the United States? You go, girl! Secretary of State? C'mon, now. Is there a better choice out there than Hillary Clinton?

You have to examine the record. Back during the Democratic primary, Hillary took great pains to portray Barack Obama as inexperienced and untested, and, by extension, unable to understand, much less carry out, the awesome responsibilities as our Commander-in-Chief -- a theme that John McCain, the Republican nominee for president, hammered Obama on as well. Hillary and McCain, you see, were members of the same club -- Persons of Great Importance who had "crossed the threshold," "passed the bar" or "met the responsibilities" to serve as CIC. It wasn't clear then nor is it clear now just what the initiation ritual consisted of or where the test scores were posted to mark passage into this special club. On the most important foreign policy question of the post-Cold War, pre-return-to-the-Cold War era, the decision to invade Iraq, Hillary and McCain were flatly wrong. But in Washington, being wrong doesn't matter. Retaining your position of power to decide what you might want to do next -- coaching a Little League baseball team, moving to a K St. lobbying firm, running for president or offering up your considerable services to serve as a Cabinet secretary -- is the currency of value. So John McCain can be wrong on Iraq and yet claim credit as the architect of "the surge," the ingenious idea to increase troop levels so that the United States could bring violence down to 2004 levels, knowing full well that the purveyors of conventional wisdom in the corporate media will laud him as a "serious thinker unafraid to make the tough choices," even though "the surge" is to Iraq what "All Deliberate Speed" was to Brown v. Board of Education era -- a problem in search of a solution.

Hillary Clinton can use an undistinguished Senate career that has drawn praise for her mastery of briefing books rather than any legislative accomplishment of signifcance. Hillary used her time in the Senate to prepare her failed presidential run, which I accurately predicted would be the presidential campaign equivalent of the Titanic -- an expensive, doomed disaster, yet still retain her reputation as a modern day Eleanor Roosevelt. Hillary was unable to manage her campaign team, blew through over a $120 million in the process, needlessly extended the Democratic primary by insisting, with the cooperation of the corporate media, that she had a chance, until the very end, to win a nomination that she lost in early March and . . . yet . . . persuade the "serious" thinkers who staff the Op-Ed page of the Washington Post and navigate the shark-infested waters of "official" Washington that she'd be a great pick as Secretary of State.

No, I didn't state that incorrectly. A Clinton as our nation's chief diplomat. Think about that one for a moment.

Just how do you get to the point that you are presumptively qualified for any job out there when you haven't demonstrated that you're any good at the one you already have? Here's one possible answer. Years ago, we had a Dean in the School of Public Affairs at American University who was an absolute disaster from the moment he stepped on to campus. Imagine, if you can, Michael Scott from "The Office" combined with Lumberg from "Office Space" but minus the charm and that's what you get. He came here with sterling recommendations, so naturally the question was, and I paraphrase, "WTF?" And then the lightbulb went off. Everyone wanted to get rid of him, so they wrote him great references, you know, that ones that go, "As much as we'd hate to lose Dean Schmendrick, neither do we want to get in his way as he continues to build his career." Seems generous, right?

Wrong. Translated: "If you want him, you can have him."

Maybe Hillary Clinton would be a good Secretary of State. Maybe she could use the position to run for another office, say, Prime Minister of Great Britain or President of France or -- talk about cracking that glass ceiling by the millions -- Queen of Saudi Arabia! Imagine Hillary and the Hillary-nistas running an oil fiefdom where women can't vote or do much of anything else unless their husbands or fathers let them. For me, though, that's less of a question than how the John McCains and Hillary Clintons of the world are always called upon to save the day when their legacies of bad judgment far outweigh anything else they've done.

And that's not even getting to Joe Lieberman. Can you . . .

No. I just can't get into that.

1 comment:

David Kaib said...

If anything is too big to fail, and then does fail, shouldn't it be broken up, rather than bailed out and left still too big to fail? I know that's common sense, and therefore it can't be common wisdom, but still...