The Washington Post

Isolationism is a bipartisan problem

What do the audiences at GOP presidential campaign debates and the Occupy Wall Street crowd have in common? Neither has any desire to lift a finger to help European central banks, European private banks, U.S. banks or other financial institutions that hold distressed European debt. I hope the absence of U.S. leadership isn’t disastrous for the economy, because the domestic politics of the matter seems to be settled.

As you noted, Carter, none of the positive effects of the bailout of U.S. banks are appreciated, so I can’t imagine that legislation to use U.S. taxpayers’ money to support European banks would ever get 50 votes in Congress. Who says there is no bipartisanship in Washington?

Any disoriented Republican candidate who has a momentary brain freeze can recover by blurting out “no taxpayer money for a European bail out,” and he will receive instant applause from any gathering of GOP primary voters. And I suspect no Democratic leaders are about to tar themselves, or their party, by calling for a robust plan to aide European debt holders. I also didn’t sense any consensus developing about what actions the European Central Bank might take to avoid a financial meltdown when I strolled through the Occupy Wall Street demonstration a couple of weeks ago.

The chairman of the Federal Reserve is holding town hall meetings in an attempt to educate and excite the public. That is a certain sign that everyone else has run for the hills.

To most voters, the evaporation of wealth from the U.S. stock markets doesn’t appear to be connected to a problem where there might be some action required. On the political right, there is a shallow call to let the markets work, and on the left, there is a stoner rant against fat cats. I hope doing nothing turns out to be the correct formula for avoiding a global recession.

Fair or not, this is President Obama’s economy. I try to be a conscientious follower of the news, but I have no idea what his realistic near- or long-term economic plans or priorities are. Economic failure is bad politics for the White House, so you would think the administration would be advocating something plausible, if only to try to deflect political blame when things get worse -- maybe a lot worse. Fragmented calls for “tougher action” or “bolder steps” from the president and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner don’t amount to a plan. Actually, if I were in The White House, I would think a little panic is in order.

Economic isolation appears to be the political mandate from voters, even if the political elite think differently. This represents a failure of leadership and communication skills, and no one has any idea what price the United States will ultimately pay. Let’s all just hope for the best.

Ed Rogers is a contributor to the PostPartisan blog, a political consultant and a veteran of the White House and several national campaigns. He is the chairman of the lobbying and communications firm BGR Group, which he founded with former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour in 1991.


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