Congress and Wall Street both crashed today as politicians' fears and public rage collided over the American economy. House members, overcome by genuine doubt as well as panic over self-preservation five weeks before facing reelection, narrowly defeated the financial rescue bill, sending the Dow into an historic dive.
Everybody lost today--the lame-duck Bush Administration, Congressional Democrats for failing to find a convincing compromise, John McCain for prematurely bragging about his leadership in persuading Republican legislators to get on board and Barack Obama, fairly or not, for being helpless on the sidelines.
Watching the numbers on cable TV split screens was an ugly experience and, when the House count was over, Republican leaders John Boehner and Roy Blunt added insult to injury by blaming Democrats for their failure to produce enough votes for passage.
"We could have gotten there today had it not been for the partisan speech that the speaker gave on the floor of the House," Boehner said, claiming Speaker Nancy Pelosi's words "poisoned our conference, caused a number of members that we thought we could get, to go south."
Democrat Barney Frank responded with disbelief: "Because somebody hurt their feelings, they decided to punish the country?"
Before the vote, Frank had said, "Today is the decision day. If we defeat this bill, it will be a very bad day for the financial sector of the American economy and the people who will feel the pain are not the top bankers and top corporate executives but average Americans."
If Washington was broken before today, it is now in shambles as so-called national leaders race to reassure worldwide investors that the American economy is still working.
It may be time to call in older and wiser heads--Warren Buffet, Mike Bloomberg et al--to oversee this mess before it sinks us all.