Selling the Bailout

| Wed Oct. 1, 2008 1:26 PM EDT

SELLING THE BAILOUT....One of the ongoing mysteries of the bailout plan is why the Bush administration did such a lousy job of selling it. As Ezra Klein points out, if this were the first term crew, the plan would have been rolled out with some kind of snazzy, disingenuous name (how about the Financial Reconstruction and Emergency Employment Act, or FREE?) and accompanied by a blizzard of fact sheets that completely misrepresented what the Act would cost and what it would do. Opponents would have been demagogued, talk radio would have been harnessed, and Bush would have been giving speeches and press conferences daily. So what happened?

Well, who knows? But I'll take a few guesses:

  • This is no longer the White House of Karl Rove, Andy Card, and Dan Bartlett, and it shows.

  • Bush's heart was never in this. He didn't want to sponsor a bailout and only signed on under extreme duress when Paulson and Bernanke convinced him we were facing a genuine emergency. (This is ironic, of course, since some of the opposition to the bill has compared the administration's "fearmongering" of the financial crisis to the runup of the Iraq war. This is 180 degrees backward. Bush has spent the last year desperately trying to ignore the financial crisis, not selling the country on a solution. If anything, distrust of Bush ought to convince you that maybe this bill is necessary after all.)

  • The main impetus behind the bailout bill was Henry Paulson and Ben Bernanke, who may be conservative but who aren't hacks. A typical Bushian razzle-dazzle sales campaign just isn't their style.

  • The events of the week of September 19th were so catastrophic that Paulson honestly didn't think there would be any serious opposition to the bill. He figured it was like the Pearl Harbor Resolution: just draft up something short and simple, hand it over to Congress, and it would be approved 434-1 the next day. He and Bernanke simply had no idea that it would get the reception it did.

  • On a political note, Democrats are now in charge of Congress, which means the bailout bill had to pass through the Democratic leadership. The Bushies just aren't used to that and didn't really know what to do. So they flailed.

  • Bush and his staff still have no clue about just how low their political capital has fallen. They simply didn't realize that even their own party would laugh in their faces even when faced with a genuine emergency. (On the other hand, I'll bet they know now. This has been a very rude wakeup call for them.)

One way or another, this has been a monumental cockup. For more, check out David Colker and Tom Hamburger's piece in the LA Times today. Nickel summary: they just totally screwed the pooch on this.

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