Congress is losing the nation’s trust

Published 10:53 am Thursday, October 2, 2008

It’s not everyday that one reads economic news stories with words like “Armageddon” being thrown about liberally, but such are the times we live in. The nation’s financial crisis may or may not be as apocalyptic as some of the more panicky news stories being written these days make it seem, but odds are there will be long-term ramifications for many Americans.

But the people with perhaps the most to lose in the fiasco are not on Wall Street, or even Main Street for that matter — they are in Washington.

The backlash from the collective inability of Congress to act swiftly and decisively to pass some form of economic bailout will likely be one of the most immediate ramifications of all this mess. Come election time in November, members of Congress who voted against the bailout, and watched stocks plunge as a result, may regret that decision when they find themselves out of a job.

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The most shocking thing about Black Monday wasn’t just that Congress voted against the bailout, but it was the flimsy reasons most members of the House gave as to why they voted no.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s speech prior to the vote was too partisan, some said, or they were afraid to vote for an uncertain plan so close to an election. Some just wanted to adjourn and go hit the campaign trial.

The vote confirmed what many Americans have long suspected and feared — that when the chips are down and we need our leaders most, they will be too concerned with party politics and job preservation to act boldly.

The bailout was not a perfect plan. If it had passed, it would not have been a panacea, but it had the support of every major U.S. political leader from the President, to the Treasury Secretary and Chairman of the Federal Reserve — even the Democratic and Republican leadership of the House and Senate.

Yet 95 House Democrats and 133 House Republicans still opposed the bill, and the effects were immediate and frightening. Stocks plunged and The Dow Jones industrial average dropped nearly 778 points.

Much of that may have been due to the herd mentality that comes with blind panic and fear, and stocks were rebounding on Tuesday even as lawmakers scrambled to assemble a new bailout plan.

But what assurance do we have that Bailout 2.0 will not suffer a similar fate? If it does, what will happen next? How many times can the market rebound before it won’t any more?

The nation’s trust in Congress was on shaky ground even before Monday’s vote. Only about 18 percent of Americans approve of Congress, the latest polls show. After Monday’s vote, disapproval may have turned to disgust in the minds of many Americans.

I wonder what all of this will mean for the nation’s young people, for whom trust in the U.S. political system is often tenuous at best. For many young adults a politician is a late-night monologue punch-line, a cliche, an old guy in a suit. Far too many of my friends do not care enough to vote.

We need leaders — something that this entire financial crisis has sorely lacked. We have seen wringing hands and solemn faces. We have seen closed-door meetings that ended in more political squabbling. But we have lacked a single, clear, confident voice telling us we have nothing to fear but fear itself.

The week is not over of course, and the members of Congress still have a chance to show the nation they can put aside politics long enough to act for the public good. But even if we get a bailout plan by the end for the week, will it be enough to restore public trust so badly squandered?

It is most likely that Congress will be made up of many new faces after November’s election, including either Bobby Bright or Jay Love to represent us in Alabama’s 2nd District. It will be incumbent on these new members of Congress to restore the confidence of a public that is getting jaded from being let down too often.

Matt Clower is news editor of The Messenger. He can be reached at 670-6323 or via e-mail at