Look, we've had two choices all along: do this, or do nothing. There's an argument to be made for doing nothing. There's an argument to be made against doing the Paulson bailout. It strikes me that neither of these has been done, sufficiently. What happened today was the result of a lot of frustrations - the frustrations of a general public, many of whom do not understand the issues; the frustrations of conservatives who can't stomach this level of government intervention, and the frustrations of liberals, who, frankly, think this intervention isn't nearly enough. Of the three, I'd say the liberals are on to something.
But doing more - nationalizing banks, taking over various institutions... is simply unrealistic. We are not Europe. We are not that interventionist. The choice, as I said, was do this... or do nothing. I don't love the bailout; I think it's poorly thought through, debatable in its ultimate result, and not likely to save us. But... it's better than nothing.
Today's failure can be pinned, squarely, on Congressional Republicans - we know it, and they know it. Despite the excuse making, it's clear that conservative opposition - both in the GOP and among "blue dog" Democrats - was the key to this losing.
And now, conservatives have a choice - accept a revote and get this thing through... or do nothing.
Personally, I don't think it's at all clear where we're headed. I was grateful to be trapped at work today when I heard (vote failed, and Dow down 700. It was quite a lunch break), because I wouldn't have known what to say. To some degree, I still don't.
But today was, by my count, the third, or fourth answer to the "do nothing" crowd, as visceral an answer as it gets. Do nothing... and the Dow will lose 5-7% a day. Do nothing... and banks will fail. Do nothing... and credit will tighten up. These are not theoretical things. They are happening, and they will happen more, and faster, and worse.
Republicans, as far as I can tell have the stark choice: do nothing, and lose; or vote it through. There is pretty much no way for the GOP to blame anyone but themselves for this failure - a failure of party unity, a failure to back their own (yes, failed, but still their own) President, a failure to offer any kind of realistic alternative. The coming economc disasters will fall on them, and there's almost no way to see a failure to act as anything other than an invitation to a vast Democratic majority in both houses, and President Obama.
Today also made plain just how disastrous McCain's "intervention" was - utterly unable to rally his own troops in the House (proof that, as many suggested, his relationships in that realm were essentially zip), utterly unable to show that he "brokered" any kind of workable compromise, and now, utterly unwilling to follow through on his "suspend" rhetoric of the past week and go back and work harder to get a result. And the icing? The entire Arizona delegation - Dem and Rep - voted against the bill. No other state of that congressional size, or larger, was of such unanimity. Illinois split in half.
At best, this bill was always a longshot. Paulson's been rightly criticized for poor management of all of this, his initial proposal was horrifyingly bad, and the natural oppositions to doing anything of this magnitude always worked against it. But we have a choice: do this... or do nothing. That's it. There isn't another magic solution, there's nobody with a better idea... there's this, or nothing. And it's now, or most likely, it's never. To suggest, as some have, that this can wait until next year with - theoretically - an Obama Presidency, is to miss the reality: when we get there, we'll be discussing an entirely different plan - one that's meant to deal with nothing short of an oncoming depression.
We can - and today we should admit that it's likely we will - do nothing; we are good at doing nothing. And it's true, we are also good at vast overreactions and corrections. The bailout plan is not a great idea. It's just the only one we've got right now, the only one we can pass on short notice, and the only one that, at the very least, buys us time. Literally. We don't have to do it. It may not even be that we should do it. But the alternative, be clear on this, is doing nothing. And nothing, really, will get us just what we've been getting. Only worse.