G. Gordon Liddy, former Watergate figure turned conservative talk show host, likes to make fun of the way Americans have faith that, at any one time, Washington D.C. is in good hands. Somebody, Liddy smirks, always has their hands on the wheel! Somebody is always driving the car of state, if you will. Liddy believes this is a myth that reduces our appetite for better leadership. And as crazy militaristic nut jobs struggling on AM radio go, Liddy may be on to something that’s at least easier to grasp than the vague sense of panic Wolf Blitzer is selling these days.
But I’m not buying panic. Sorry, no can do. Yes, our household went to the bank and made sure the FDIC would cover what we have there. The bank is three blocks from the house; how silly if we hadn’t taken a moment to do that. But I’m not converting to gold. I did contemplate buying a few more guitars. The prices might go down, and music is always around. In the worst of times, people might trade a meal for a song. Or a Fender Stratocaster. Or a Marshall amp that they could at least plug in for heat.
Last week I had a friend confess that she cashed in her IRA and put the cash money almost literally under the mattress. Maybe that feels right, and that helps that person stay loose right now. But I wish I didn’t know about it. It feels as though any minute Richard Widmark could burst through the door brandishing a piece and demand the loot.
What’s happening is serious as a heart attack. But if we’re seized emotionally by it, that tightening of our psyches could contribute to making it more real. Now is the time to stay loose in case, for example, somebody runs a $700 billion dollar piece of legislation past you. If you’re fearful, you might not take time to figure out whether it’s really a good thing. Thirty days ago, if I had asked you for $6,500 to save America you would have told me to go get a talk show on AM radio. Last Monday millions monitored their TV set to see if they’d pass that bailout before the market closed. Whoa, horsies, whoa!!
We want to understand, but we’re told by just about everyone that we can’t understand. We just can’t. We’re just not smart enough. Even experts can’t quite explain the bailout. The entire country is getting the kind of treatment women get from salesmen when they go alone to buy a new car. If these were doctors talking to you about your kid, would you settle for, “Just let us handle it, folks. There’s lemonade and cookies in the waiting room…” ?!
So, step one in staying loose: Go ahead and understand it. It’s complex, but it’s not impossible. I’m still not certain why we’d print money when we owe so much already, but there may be some get-to-B-by-way-of-A thinking that does make logical sense in the short run. Either way, don’t just throw up your hands. Remember how you felt when they said duct tape and plastic would save you from terrorist attacks? We need a little more of that healthy skepticism. We’re still stinging from the WMD hustle; let’s not start pulling our hair out just because we’re instructed to do so. Who or what is AIG? Up until the last two weeks, did you have any idea what kind of background Henry Paulson had?
Step two: Watch your language. Not your own, but the language that you take in as you search for information. One of the worst dimensions of the current economic crisis is that newsgathering systems have become so adept at adding drama to everything that when an event with actual drama occurs, they must go to Code Red with their hyperbole. Last week the game was, “Who will be first to say ‘Great Depression’?” About midweek, that dam broke. Then the return cannon fire: “Hey, It’s not the Great Depression” articles and news stories poured forth. It helps them look dramatic, but it does nothing for those of us trying to gain understanding. When Lou Dobbs wipes that smile off his face and grabs a hammer to help Jimmy Carter build houses, drama will have truly arrived at CNN.
Meanwhile… Dear G. Gordon Liddy: I believe Nancy Pelosi, for example, does know more about this than I do. Further, I trust her and others I voted for to work diligently now in this hour of reckoning with some of our worst habits with money and loans and credit. Quite possibly the wheel is not in any one set of hands, but maybe that just means the car has stalled and someone, sensibly, is out looking for a gas station.
Step three: Have some faith. Nobody wanted this thing, but here it is and you fight with the army you have.