Commentary: Getting past the bailout burnout

The Kansas City StarFebruary 24, 2009 

It was, to coin a phrase, another stimulating week.

Over the course of 48 hours last week, we saw President Barack Obama sign a $787 billion federal stimulus/spending bill, unveil a new $275 billion housing bailout plan and get fresh requests from General Motors and Chrysler to expand federal loans to $39 billion to help them avoid bankruptcy.

Whew. Pretty soon, we're going to be talking real money – at least until we devalue the dollar to pay for it all.

In times like these, its entirely predictable that government will seek to fill the consumption gap left as businesses and households cut back. Keynesian economics seems suddenly hip.

But mass psychology can play just as much of a role in economic behavior as hard cash. And that's where the frantic pace of bailouts can actually do more harm than good.

Just one month into the Obama administration, I'm wondering what happened to the "hope" guy. Everyday, it seems, the president is announcing a plan that's long on dollars and short on details to stave off another imminent "catastrophe."

For someone who has been so obviously influenced by our country's two most notable crisis-era presidents, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, I find Obama's grim pronouncements a bit puzzling.

It seems like the fabulous orator has embraced fear itself. This is no small matter. Constituents are noticing.

A new CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll reveals 73 percent of us are "very scared" or "somewhat scared." No wonder the Dow and Standard & Poor's 500 closed Monday at their lowest levels since 1997.

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