This just in from the White House: The times are uncertain

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CBS News aired the big story Friday detailing the Federal Reserve’s scheme to team up with JPMorgan Chase to rescue the Bear Stearns investment colossus, which was about to run out of cash.

Opinion: This just in from the White House: The times are uncertain

Bear Stearns thus joined about 100 million other Americans contemplating empty pockets. This was a somewhat ironic picture, the Federal Reserve undoubtedly agreed. But you can’t have the institutional lenders of last resort in the world’s richest country winding up in the soup kitchen.

The sight was so ironic that it demanded a measured overview and counsel from the President of the United States. Mr. Bush rose magnificently to the challenge of the moment. With hundreds of thousands of Americans losing their homes, gasoline stretching to $3.30 a gallon, food prices soaring, bridges falling, airlines canceling flights, the dollar shrinking and Iraq costing $700 million every day, Mr. Bush gave his appreciation of the economic picture in the fullness of his presidential insight.

We live, he said, “in uncertain times.”

One’s heart tended to stop before the grandeur of this revelation.

You experienced an image of America’s millions united in the epiphany of the moment. True, it was somewhat blighted by the president’s advice on how we are going to extricate ourselves from the mess. Which was:

Don’t do anything stupid like ending the trillion dollar tax cuts for the richest people in America.

One citizen who seemed unimpressed by this philosophy appeared in the comment section that followed the CBS/AP report.

The writer was offended to see the U.S. government and other financial knights pouring billions of dollars into the vaults of banks. “Where is it?” the letter writer asked. “It sure isn’t going to us Americans that are drowning…By the way, I tried to close many bank accounts with a lot of money in them. The bank told me well it might be awhile before you can have it…we don’t have it in our bank.”

The citizen was clearly browned off. Citizens in that condition may be prone to hyperbole. I’ve had no such problems with the bank. Then again, I have no idea where else I’d put the money. But the citizen’s response was a credible metaphor for where most of the American people sit today.

The people of this country are in middle of a critical election fight without the faintest idea of what’s happening to their money or the country’s money. They know that “pumping liquidity” into the banking and lending system means that some beautiful economic theories have broken down somewhere, and the government is printing more money, cheapening the dollar further, adding cash to be lent, backed by what?

Who knows? But those hundreds of thousands of people who are losing homes also know that many of them didn’t really understand the ground rules about those fees and more fees and the endless small print in the mortgage terms. And that somebody, somewhere was making a killing on their gullibility and their eagerness to live in their own home.

They also know that somebody was supposed to regulate that business and to protect them from ripoffs. Sad thing about that. The government regulators went out of business, at the request of the government.

This election should be about connecting those dots. We have seen a government operating in secrecy, paying billions to contractors whose names rarely surface, closing its eyes to hazards facing its citizens under the mantra of letting the markets work.

They can work responsibly, and they have. What’s wrong with the America of today, in the relationship between people and government, is relatively simple. One indivisible part of the relationship has been lost. It’s called trust.