The Great Rescue of 2008

Workin’ in a coal mine,
Goin’ down down down,
Workin’ in a coal mine,
Whoops, about to slip down …

So it turns out that Enron (remember Enron?) was just the canary, and now the entire coal mine is caving in on the miners. Believe me, it isn’t “clean coal” dust we’ll all be eating.

Nothing’s more dramatic than a mining disaster, especially when you and everyone you know is trapped in it.

How long before the air runs out? Will the media lose interest before hope is abandoned? Is Wolf Blitzer right now beseeching his reporters to “get out there and find me a missing teenager!” before the Situation Room goes dark?

Good old Wolf. “When we come back, right after these messages, we’ll have a spokesperson for the serial killer community, to give us the other side of the serial killer debate. Don’t go away.”

A lack of oxygen can sometimes work wonders, and not just underground. Henry James might as well have been describing the current occupant of the White House when he said this in praise of a fellow novelist: “Whenever hallucination settled upon him, he was prepared to believe whatever was necessary under the circumstances.”

President George W. Bush, in his few brief appearances of late, looks for all the world like a man lost in some bizarre delusion, a cross between Dr. Strange and Hunter S. Thompson, adrift in the 9th dimension, wandering among the Hell Beings, crying “I only have escaped alone to tell thee.”

(Soon now, in your presence, someone will say, “You know, I almost feel sorry for him.” That will be your cue to say something unpleasant.)

Anyway, things have caved in. And behold, it came to pass that a Bipartisan Rescue Attempt was begun.

It didn’t start out as a Rescue, mind you. At first it was a Bailout.

It was born again when Senator John McCain suspended his campaign, flew back to Washington and suggested a name change to make the transfer of wealth from the public treasury to Wall Street more palatable.

The subsequent re-branding was Senator McCain’s only apparent contribution to the process.

Barack Obama, busily monitoring the situation, knew a good idea when he saw one, and smoothly shifted gears in mid-landslide. If the American people preferred a Rescue to a Bailout, so be it.

The Great Rescue of 2008 was, unfortunately for you and me and everyone we know, designed to rescue not the miners trapped in the rubble — of course not! — but the mine owners and operators.

Some of these objects of our collective sympathy were last seen recovering from the Bailout at the St. Regis Resort in California, enjoying manicures and massages, and no doubt spreading fistfuls of rescue cash around as tips for the staff.

Can anyone blame them? The stress of living with the stigma of multi-million dollar severance packages must be enormous. Ask yourself: if someone paid you upwards of $40 million to sit at a table in Washington in an election year, while being lectured by the People’s Representatives and wearing no expression whatsoever, would you be up to the rigors of the job? The sheer blankness of it all!

The Democratically controlled Congress, which didn’t want to impeach President Bush, hell no, is now back home campaigning for re-election, soliciting the votes of people who shudder to think what further catastrophes may befall the United States before Bush leaves office. Why is no one among all these candidates demanding that Bush, Cheney and their entire cabinet resign? And take all their minions and myrmidons with them!

Here’s a poll question for you: what percentage of voters are just hoping that the country survives until January?

After two misbegotten wars, both of which it was long ago evident that we are losing, the shredding of the Constitution, the explosion of the deficit and the collapse of the financial system, will anything be left undamaged? Will there be nothing left but a smoking rubble?

Should we all be listening to “We’re Living in the Last Days Now,” as recorded in the 1940s by the Bailes Brothers?

According to Leon Panetta, “It’s close to an impossible situation. The next guy, whoever he is, will be a one-term president — if he is lucky.”

So here we sit, pondering the distinct possibility that whatever comes after Bush will be worse!

Optimistic Republicans can look forward, if they dare, to the swearing in of President John McMaverick, who promises to continue the same economic and military policies as Bush, but with more reform and fewer earmarks for “my fellow prisoners.”

Pessimistic Democrats are trying not to imagine a President No Drama who would lack the money (or the will) to introduce anything more than minor variations on those same Bush policies (such as more emphasis on the war we are losing in Afghanistan and less on the one we’re losing in Iraq), but with better rhetoric and fewer mispronounced words.

In two debates now, neither candidate has had anything compelling to say about the worsening financial crisis.

You don’t have to be a third party supporter to imagine how different those debates might have been had Ralph Nader been included. Substantive things would have been uttered, possibly by more than one candidate, who knows?

(On the other hand, has anything substantive ever been said anywhere, by anyone, when Tom Brokaw was in the room?)

If John McCain still wants to save his campaign, he should throw yet another Hail Mary pass and announce his intention to offer Nader a position in his Cabinet, arguing that the one politician who saw all this coming should be sitting at the table when the fate of the American economy is being decided.

Barack Obama, with his lead in the polls, can probably run out the clock without taking any such risk. Whether he will ascend to a presidency still worth having, or spend his weary term cleaning up Bush’s miserable mess with the country forced to live on a shoestring, is another story.

Maybe people who are counting on Obama to reveal himself as something like a true progressive in his Inaugural Address are right. Maybe this situation is sufficiently appalling to shock the corporate centrist out of him. Stranger things have happened. For the moment it seems merely to have stunned him.

Maybe the pundits, for all their predictable gushing about history being made, are in fact underestimating the symbolic power of having a mixed race person in the White House. Maybe “how does it feel?” really is a better and more urgent question than “what does it mean?”

Or do the nation’s prospects after 16 years of Clinton and Bush warrant putting a new sign on the White House gate: “Abandon Hope, all ye who enter here”?

It could be the best argument for voting for Obama is the one put forward by an old cynic in my hometown: “Throw the bums out, we need some new bums.”

I know this: Waylon Jennings said, “Be careful of anything that’s just what you want it to be.”

So Democrats beware.

The Republicans had everything they ever wanted: eight years of a right wing Republican president, with conservative Republicans running both the House and the Senate for six of them.

Look where it got them.

If the Democrats control the White House and both branches of Congress for 6-8 years, and manage only to make things worse, then both major parties will have been exposed as frauds, and maybe our two-party/one-agenda regime will come crashing down along with everything else in this system-eating system of ours.

“You say that like it’s a bad thing,” I imagine the reader responding.

DAVID VEST has been touring the West Coast and Canada with his Northwest Pianorama show. The blues piano man can be reached through his web site. Readers may also wish to leave comments on his blog, Kaliyuga Highway.

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DAVID VEST writes the Rebel Angel column for CounterPunch. He and his band, The Willing Victims, have just released a scorching new CD, Serve Me Right to Shuffle. His essay on Tammy Wynette is featured in CounterPunch’s new collection on art, music and sex, Serpents in the Garden.