William Kristol, Trying To Be Down with the Common People

He really, really tried!

A friend serving in the Bush administration called Sunday to try to talk me out of my doubts about the $700 billion financial bailout the administration was asking Congress to approve. I picked up the phone, and made the mistake of good-naturedly remarking, in my best imitation of Oliver Hardy, “Well, this is a fine mess you’ve gotten us into.”

People who’ve been working 18-hour days trying to avert a meltdown are entitled to bristle at jocular comments from those of us not in public office. So he bristled. He then tried to persuade me that the only responsible course of action was to support the administration’s request.

I’m not convinced.

It’s not that I don’t believe the situation is dire. It’s not that I want to insist on some sort of ideological purity or free-market fastidiousness. I will stipulate that this is an emergency, and is a time for pragmatic problem-solving, perhaps even for violating some cherished economic or political principles. (What are cherished principles for but to be violated in emergencies?)

And I acknowledge that there are serious people who think the situation too urgent and the day too late to allow for a real public and Congressional debate on what should be done. But — based on conversations with economists, Wall Street types, businessmen and public officials — I’m doubtful that the only thing standing between us and a financial panic is for Congress to sign this week, on behalf of the American taxpayer, a $700 billion check over to the Treasury.

But he falls off the balance beam halfway through the routine (my emphasis):

A huge speculative housing bubble has collapsed. We’re going to have a recession. Unemployment will go up. Credit is going to be tighter. The challenge is to contain the damage to a “normal” recessionand to prevent a devastating series of bank runs, a collapse of the credit markets and a full-bore depression.

It’s just an ill-fitting suit of clothes for Kristol. He doesn’t have a record of believing in this stuff (my emphasis):

Kroft: You think we’re in a recession?

Obama: Oh, I think there’s no doubt that we’re gonna see, when the numbers come out, that we are officially in recession. I think, for a lot of people, they’ve been feeling like we’ve been in a recession for years now. When their wages and incomes don’t go up, and the cost of gas and groceries and home heating oil and prescription drugs are all going up, that feels awfully like a recession to them.

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