Remember when Democrats and Republicans stood on the Capitol steps and sang "God Bless America?" For a moment there, the Washington crowd was stunned by the attacks of 9/11 into forgetting their stupid partisan differences and remembering they were Americans. I made a passing reference to that in a column last week.
This NYT story describes a moment last night when the shock and awe of the scope of this mounting financial crisis had a similar effect on members of Congress. It happened in a briefing Ben Bernanke and Henry Paulson gave to congressional leaders:
“When you listened to him describe it you gulped," said Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York.
As Senator Christopher J. Dodd,
Democrat of Connecticut and chairman of the Banking, Housing and Urban
Affairs Committee, put it Friday morning on the ABC program “Good
Morning America,” the congressional leaders were told “that we’re
literally maybe days away from a complete meltdown of our financial
system, with all the implications here at home and globally.”
Mr. Schumer added, “History was sort of hanging over it, like this was a moment.”
When Mr. Schumer described the meeting as “somber,” Mr. Dodd cut in.
“Somber doesn’t begin to justify the words,” he said. “We have never
heard language like this.”
“What you heard last evening,” he
added, “is one of those rare moments, certainly rare in my experience
here, is Democrats and Republicans deciding we need to work together
What an amazing time for a spirit of bipartisan cooperation to emerge — if that indeed happens (and if it doesn’t, we’re sunk). Now, on the eve of this too-close-to-call presidential election, the one I worried so much about in another column.
I certainly hope that happens. But you know what? As weird as you may think the fact that 9/11 made me (however briefly) optimistic about the future, here’s something you might find harder to fathom: I don’t feel that way this time. With the terror attacks of 9/11, I had very clear ideas of what I thought should happen next (short version: fully engage the world), and it was my belief that those things would happen that prompted my optimism.
Now, I’m at a loss. I don’t know what it is I want the government to coalesce around. Maybe Bush and Paulson are taking the right steps, but I don’t know. To me, a financial mess of this magnitude is more perplexing than terrorist attacks. Not as immediately horrible, but less understandable. And that leaves me uneasy.
Also, the promise of bipartisanship seems shakier here. There is a history of partisans setting aside differences in response to an external threat. But many politicians cut their teeth demagoging economic issues, and happily drawing sharp ideological distinctions about them.
But I hope the potential described above is realized. As uncertain as I am about the way forward, I would feel much better if we’d drop the party games and face it together. That would help a great deal.