Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Slap in the face

The real "slap-in-the-face" has been the public discussion around this crisis. The atmosphere is palpably different now than it was just a week ago, when blind panic ruled. Blind panic is being replaced by reasoned fear -- "reasoned" being the operative word. You can put a price on reasoned fear; panic is priceless.

Oddly enough, I think Congress holding these hearings told people things weren't melting down right this instant, which was reassuring -- if things were going to collapse, even congress wouldn't be wasting time talking about it. It looked like some grownup people who were capable of having grownup discussions were actually interested in doing something for the public good, which has been a rare, rare thing these past eight years; in fact it's been rare since the Republicans took Congress in 1994 (quick: name one meaningful Congressional debate since 1994 that wasn't polluted by theatrics and grandstanding, that wasn't about theatrics and grandstanding). People see this and think "Government can work," and that is calming in itself.

Having all this stuff -- the genesis of the crisis, its nature -- explained has also helped. Somehow, it's way more frightening to know that there's a crisis out there and not know what it's about than to know there's a crisis out there, it was caused by a, b, and c, and we have options x, y, and z to try to do something about it. These hearings have been the best thing that could have happened, way, way better than this bailout could possibly have been on its own.