Let’s go back to one month after 9/11. The country just suffered its worse terrorist attack in the nation’s history and was going through another. Weaponized anthrax was being sent through the mail targeting politicians and the 4th estate. The intelligence agencies failed catastrophically and didn’t cooperate with each other. The nation panicked and didn’t know if it could protect itself.
The response? The USA PATRIOT Act. It authorized expanded powers for US intelligence and law enforcement agencies including surveillance capabilities, broadened the definition of “terrorism”, increased border security and gave the Treasury the ability to stop money laundering the world over.
But its authority is so broad that it can lend itself to abuse. It gives power to wiretap and spy on law-abiding American citizens including monitoring what they read at the library, “sneak and peek” without a warrant, and access to medical and financial records. Plus, this large bill was being quickly pushed through Congress without giving it full consideration or even being read by those voting on it.
Now imagine if almost every Democratic member of Congress voted against the Act based on those reasons. Or perhaps they didn’t trust this new, untested administration to do what is right. Or maybe they did it to just make a point about party unity. Would there be a public outcry? Would the pundits say that the opposition party did not grasp the enormity of the situation and that in this moment of peril it is better to “shoot first and ask questions later”? With the great danger the country is in, would it be better to err on the side of giving too much power to the government to deal with the crisis than too little?
Remember your mental answers to those questions as I change the circumstances slightly.
Let’s zoom back to the present day. The national and world economies have never been in as bad shape since the Great Depression. We have been losing a half a million jobs a month since the election and now 4.81 million people collect unemployment benefits, the highest number in at least 40 years. Consumer confidence is at a 29-year low. The Dow has lost a quarter of its value since September. The financial sector has $1.17 trillion in defaulted loans on its books which lead to a 12.4% reduction in housing prices. 1 in 9 US homes are now vacant.
The response? The $787 billion economic recovery package. It offers the largest tax cut in US history, $272 billion for the working class. $58 billion to jump-start green energy infrastructure and another $90 billion to shore up traditional infrastructure – from bridges to roads to levees and transit. There’s $100 billion to boost welfare and unemployment, $112 billion for health care in Medicare, electronic medial records and preventative care. And then there’s billions for school reconstruction, greening federal buildings, Head Start, buying foreclosed homes, and laying down broadband for the entire country.
But this is a big bill. At a heft of over 1000 pages it has the biggest price tag of any stimulus bill ever debated in Congress. And that debate didn’t include many Republicans; only the very moderate got to influence the bill significantly while the more conservative members got their ideas heard out but never implemented. But this bill is so large it would fundamentally change the size and scope of the government’s influence in American lives. And like the PATRIOT Act, this thing blazed through Congress and no one had a chance to read it all.
Now the Republicans had their equivalent of the PATRIOT Act sitting in front of them. So what would they do? What if almost every Republican member of Congress voted against the Act based on the above reasons? Or perhaps they didn’t trust this new, untested administration to do what is right. Or maybe they did it to just make a point about party unity. Would there be a public outcry? Would the pundits say that the opposition party did not grasp the enormity of the situation and that in this moment of peril it is better to “shoot first and ask questions later”? With the great danger the country is in, would it be better to err on the side of giving too much power to the government to deal with the crisis than too little?
Some might balk at equating 9/11 with the current economic crisis. But its impact and reach are very similar. There was a lot of talk about going into the depths of another Great Depression, but the institutions and foundations laid down after the Great Depression would prevent that great of a collapse. Just like there was a lot of talk about 9/11 being another Pearl Harbor, but we were then facing a coalition of highly militarized, fascist countries actively attacking America and invading its allies. Now we are facing a small number of fanatics with light arms. You can compare the two by type but not size.
Let me put it in an SAT equation:
Pearl Harbor : 9/11 :: Great Depression : today’s major recession
Our country has faced worse in the past and it is entirely within our capabilities to deal with our present crises. And while the Democrats were willing to take on 9/11 on the Republicans’ terms, the Republicans aren’t willing to tackle this economic crisis with the Democrats holding the reins. Every single House Republican voted against this bill along with all but three Senators. This is either because the Republicans don’t appreciate the dire straits that we are in, they had issues about the substance of the bill and way that it was pushed through, or they are more concerned with with their party than their country. My guess that it is a little of all three.