(Originally posted at www.theharwoodinstitute.org/RedeemingHope
I can't help but think that the financial fiasco we now face has similar markings to the War in Iraq. This is not something I say lightly, but is something that needs to be said. For why is it that on the most vital issues of the day we so quickly rush to judgment, while trivial matters receive endless attention? When it comes to Wall Street, let's not make the same mistakes we made in Iraq.
Last night I finished Bob Woodard's latest book, "The War Within." It's a good read, even though key parts of it seem overwritten, especially where Woodward switches from reporting to outright editorializing. But the facts speak for themselves: time and again the president and this administration put their heads in the sand and refused to acknowledge and adapt to on-the-ground realities. What's more, they failed repeatedly to square up with the American people.
Just as troubling were Bush's military-advisors who seemed AWOL, while Democrats on Capitol Hill were nowhere to be found. Both groups appeared timid, afraid to risk their political capital or, more likely, their political position. Recall the lead-up to the war in Iraq, where most everyone was cowed into falling into line, fearful of assaults on their patriotism, worried that they would seem less than manly if they asked for evidence of danger.
Will this same dynamic takeover in the current financial crisis? While it's clear that some form of action is required to stabilize our nation's financial situation, I'm not an economist so I cannot adequately "blog" on various technical solutions. But I do know that when a herd mentality takes over in public life, it is not a good sign. Nor is it promising when people are told not to raise tough questions because "We need to get the job done." And I don't take comfort when all of a sudden a few people huddle together with the President and declare a solution.
By all means, leadership is required now. 535 members of Congress should not get the opportunity to place their personal imprint on this legislation. But rushing to judgment on a $700 billion remedy; bypassing any kind of real oversight into the future; allowing Wall Street executives to run off with millions in golden parachutes while hard-hit Americans must forfeit their homes -- well, are these the values we want in place? Before we act is the right time to reveal, debate, and choose the values we want to guide our choices.
There is always a delicate balancing act between moving ahead quickly and making room for genuine debate. But this is not a simple "either/or" choice, and we ought not to let it become one. In fact, real leadership is the ability to understand this tension and to move ahead deftly.
If Woodward's reporting is to be believed, at critical moments in the Iraq War, the president failed to seek out the advice of his military leaders, only to be counseled by those individuals who already supported his views; meanwhile, those left outside his inner circle did not adequately raise their voices and push a different point of view. There was a rush to judgment, and a failure to engage.
Now, we face a domestic crisis, which could spill over into a major global crisis, and similar questions haunt us. Will we rush judgment, again? And will there be a failure to engage? My hope is that this time our response will be different.