In the Arena

For Whom The Bell Dingells

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Lord, things are moving fast…and also not. The stock market is moving south–fast. The number of jobless claims are moving north–fast. Economic panic is in the air…and the atmosphere is Washington is changing faster than a speeding ballot (ouch, sorry). There is a stirring in the Congress, too, where nothing of substance has happened in a long, long time. Today the hopelessly dopey auto makers received a couple of stark warnings: First, California’s crusading Henry Waxman replaced the eternal John Dingell, patron saint of the gas-guzzlers, as Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which is great news for those who are looking forward to the greening of Detroit. Then Nancy Pelosi called out the Big Three, saying no bailout without a plan. Now, no one really believes the Democrats will wit(h)hold money from the automakers–but the Big 3 would have to be stupider than idiotic not to understand that higher gas mileage standards and a whole bunch of other requirements are coming down the pike. They have very few, if any, defenders left in your nation’s capital and that’s real progress.

The problem is that nothing of significance can or will happen until the new President takes office in January, even though there is–finally–a great appetite for action in Washington. This is going to be a very frustrating few months. All of a sudden we understand how our grandparents felt in the winter of 1932-3, waiting for Franklin Roosevelt–and why the inauguration was moved up from March 4 to January 20 thereafter.

Barack Obama’s desire to keep a low profile while he fleshes out his Administration is understandable, but frustrating all the same. And George W. Bush’s blatant diffidence is annoying, too–not that he has even the tiniest shred of credibility left, but it would be nice if he sort of tried to say or do something comforting in these bleak days. Stripped of bluster, he has become a cipher. So we’re left with a void at the top at a moment of real national anxiety. History has resumed, but time seems to have frozen to a dead stop. 2009 can’t come soon enough.