Our Financial Bailout and the Spirit of ’76

history-history-declaration_independenceAdmittedly, I have had a difficult time determining my position on the bail out. What about you? Originally I was very much opposed; then I relented to the fears the press and our leaders perpetuated. And then the bailout happened—suddenly—so there wasn’t much point in taking a position on it anymore. But with the auto industry’s woes it appears that this sort of government involvement is going to with us for a while. So, as a result, it’s become a kind of new reality. Now I’m just not sure.

It appears that throughout the history of our nation we’ve seen eras of expanding and contracting government. We tend to romanticize our origins, but in the 1790s and the earliest years of the Nineteenth Century it was pretty much a 50/50 proposition whether the Union would survive or not. Issues like the assumption of debt, slavery, bickering among political factions, and the passing of the heroes of ’76 (replaced by political opportunists) all contributed to the uncertainty. With westward expansion necessitating the need of a healthier military and the requisite infrastructure, government involvement stimulated our flickering nation into a full flame that culminated, at least for a time, in the Louisiana Purchase. And of course we remember FDR’s New Deal that helped navigate our way out of the Great Depression. Roosevelt’s New Deal created jobs through public projects like national parks, created jobs for millions of works through countless programs instituted by the national government, and created public works programs that employed even more. The Great Society of the 1960s was for the most part an extension of the New Deal three decades prior.

While these examples to me are not easily aligned with the what we’ve done to soften the blow of the current financial crisis, they do give us precedent for public interaction to bring relief during an economic recession. But do these precedents validate action like what we’ve seen in recent months? It would seem that there is a fundamental difference between a program that creates opportunities for employment and a policy that forgives bad decision making at the highest levels of our financial industry. Or, and this is where I get bogged down, have the times changed; have we progressed to a point at which an expanding government responding to a national crisis behaves the way—the only way—the country and its citizens need it to respond? These are difficult times that carry with them difficult decisions. But through it all I can’t but think that those guys in the center of the Spirit of ’76 never responded to anything out of fear.

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