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So I’m waiting for someone to come up wth a convincing reason for me to care that not one House Republican voted for the economic stimulus bill this week.

Given the circumstances, it was practically a free vote and serves mostly as a Clinton-like refrain circa 1994: We’re still relevant. Take us seriously

The Senate is going to work its magic on the bill. It probably will look very little like the one that passed the House. So House members will have another chance to squawk — and another few weeks of doom-and-gloom economic news to condition them.

Barack Obama is  most likely not quaking in his boots over the power of the House GOP to stifle his agenda. They obviously can’t. It’s big of him to make nice, but I’m sure he or his advisers understand the politics driving House members. It’s the Senate they have to worry about.

They may even have anticipated a party-line “no.” I haven’ t heard anyone in the White House complaining (not that I have an ear anywhere near that hallowed ground).

How can we forget the many token “no”votes cast against the bank bailout? It died, then it came back to life so we could beat it up again over how ineffective it’s been. If you wanted to conjure up fresh proof that government spending doesn’t seem to work, you would have done the same.

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You’ll be fine. That’s the soothing advice a parent gives a 4-year-old who bangs his head on a coffee table. I would expect a little more from the leader of the free world, but that seems to be the basic White House message on the economy.

It’s technically correct that we “got through” the Depression. But it wasn’t because Americans elected FDR to be cheerleader-in-chief. It’s because FDR threw hundreds of ideas at the problem. Right, and then we fought a big war.

The bailout clearly isn’t going to be the end-all and be-all of too many economic crises on this planet. Nor is another interest-rate cut going to do the job. Haven’t we already had several hundred of those in the last decade?

If the crisis is truly one of confidence, then no technocratic solution will work. And nor will jawboning about giving those technocratic solutions more time to take effect. It’s ironic that a president who prides himself on taking action is now reduced to words in support of other people’s actions.

It’s stressful, no? Maybe we all could use a retreat to a nice spa, not just the frazzled execs at AIG.

So I’m in the bathroom of a convenience store in Gettysburg, Pa., when I notice the condom dispenser. Only it’s not labeled as such. The sign reads: “Health Care Convenience Center.” Alas, my camera phone was in the car so I can’t provide visual evidence.

Nonetheless, it’s good to see that people outside Washington and Manhattan have been polishing their euphemisms. Lord knows we’ll be seeing plenty today as the House takes up a financial bailout and vice presidential candidates clash in St. Louis

So maybe it’s doom after all for the US economy. At any rate, I was mentally tossing around various causal factors for the mess and I settled on one possible psychological motivation — and it has something to do with Sept. 11, 2001.

It’s probably no accident that financial excess followed the tragedy of 9/11. Imagine traders walking past the visible scar of that day and wondering why some died, some survived. They drowned themselves in a sea of speculative trading. They took risks that make sense only if you’re heedless of the consequences.

It’s the reaction you might have if your best friend died in some senseless, horrible accident that might have claimed you as well. But you went on living anyway. And drank — or gambled or sky-dived or high-speed raced — yourself into oblivion. Either looking for a reason why you survived — or, more aptly, trying to avoid looking. Financial types, known more for speculation than introspection, probably opted for the latter.

What’s also interesting is the flight to Greenwich you (or at least I) read about lately. That is, all the money now is being made by hedge funds in Greenwich. It’s the high-finance version of cocooning with the family in the suburbs.

I may be wrong, or not wholly right. But it makes just as much sense as ascribing it all to greed, pure and simple. Greed has been around for eons, yet it doesn’t cause financial panics every day. And it may not be the thing that drove every last soul on Wall Street. Greed is just the easiest and least controversial straw to grasp.

Here’s why I think Congress will pass a bailout sooner rather than later, despite all the hype surrounding it. The failure of an investment bank affects more than a few cuff-linked and tie-clipped CEOs. It also affects janitorial companies. When the office building goes dark, there go the hardworking, low-paid janitors, innocent in all likelihood of whatever financial chicanery turned off the lights in the first place.

This is the kind of real-world ripple effect that Congress is going to recognize. They can talk themselves blue in the face about creeping financial socialism, misplaced priorities and the moral hazard of letting “them” get away with it. But ultimately, they won’t be able to turn away from the potential for collateral damage. I just imagine that the final price tag will be a lot higher than $700 billion as lawmakers struggle to convince the American people that they arent’ giving away the store.

In the fast-moving blur that our financial sector has become,  I vaguely recall the argument that taxpayers (or Asian creditors) could someday turn a profit on the “distressed assets” they’ll be purchasing in a few week;

Still, I’m a bit skeptical. I should note that I haven’t heard this claim in the political posturing that has passed for Congressional debate the last few days. (I wonder how many pols are willing to put their principled free-market stands through the risk of a real-world test. Very few, which is why we’re more likely to end up with a package that includes tax rebates for you and me.) But we may hear it again, so it’s worth dissecting, however briefly. If there is a profit to be made from these assets, why don’t the companies keep them or why doesn’t some enterprising private-sector investor snatch them up?

I’ll be waiting for the answer.

If elected president, John McCain will raise taxes.

Why? Because this election has so many eerie parallels to 1988. The older war hero emerging from the shadows of a two-term Republican. The move to paint his Democratic opponent as an elite tax-and-spend liberal. The young, once-obscure sidekick that many people argue is inexperienced (I can’t wait for Sarah Palin’s first visit to a Central American market or her first speling lesson).

Barack Obama is running hard to escape the trap and become Bill Clinton, not Michael Dukakis. But even Obama has repeated some of Dukakis’ steps. The main one is tapping an experienced Washington senator to be his vice president. Obama’s saving grace is his charisma, which puts him back in Clinton’s league. Clinton also gave a great speech, lest anyone forget.

But the biggest parallels of all are these: Rising deficits, a big defense build-up abroad and a financial crisis requiring the government to cover bad debt.

The Resolution Trust Corp. may very well have ended the savings-and-loan crisis, but the rescue came at a cost. George H.W. Bush was willing to pony up. I suspect McCain will do the same once in office — provided we can expect a war hero not to worry about paying the ultimate (political) price for doing the right thing.

People try to draw connections between campaigning and governing, but the two remain wholly separate. George W. Bush ran as a uniter not a divider, and has been anything but for the last eight years. Some say McCain is running as a divider. That doesn’t mean he won’t be a uniter in office. It’s just unclear whether the distinction will matter on election day.

Set your hypocrisy radars on high alert. Just don’t expect anyone to reconcile the AIG bailout with the values of a government supposedly in thrall to the belief that the market is the ultimate arbiter of all that is good and true.

As we’re learning, the market can dish out some ugliness, too. But is it really a new lesson? Not for the workers who used to make Ford minivans. Or the workers that used to make toys, lawn mowers and televisions. Nor is the market’s ability to inflict pain news to anyone who has to fill up a gas tank or pay for their own health insurance.

But in all of those cases, we let the market do its work, or at least profess faith in its ability to do so over the long run – if, for example, we could clear out those silly government bans on offshore drilling. But when you’re an investment bank or an international insurance company, I guess drill, baby,  drill – or retrain, baby, retrain – isn’t the answer. The answer is a multi-billion-dollar loan.

I laughed when morning news anchors on CNN lamented AIG’s interest rate of 11.5%, calling it high and an incentive for the company to look elsewhere. Funny, but I don’t recall any journalists wringing their hands over the rates charged to people with credit cards (20%-plus) or the rates charged to subprime borrowers.

Seems to me, if your business is a credit risk and teetering on the edge of collapse, you should pay higher rates. No lender throws good money after bad at a low rate. Well, not anymore, anyway.

Another ridiculous argument in all this is the claim that the collapse of AIG would lead to higher borrowing costs. Higher costs for whom? Certainly not for people buying cars and houses, the two major purchases for most consumers.

The automakers would go lower than 0% if they could and I don’t see that changing – unless they get a bailout of their own. The same incentives apply to housing. If rates rise, home prices likely will fall, making them more affordable in the long run, not exactly the worst news in the world.

Yes, it sucks if you already have a house and the value falls or simply doesn’t go up year after year. But look on the bright side. You own a house. And now you own an insurance company, or at least a 79.5% stake in one. I can’t wait for my first dividend check.

Let me get this straight. Taxpayers, the new politically correct term for Chinese lenders, are going to bail out Fannie and Freddie so that our benighted mortgage giants can pay back their creditors in, uh, China. It’s sheer genius. I don’t think a country wishing us harm could have put us in a deeper financial hole.

It’s the international version of payday lending — an endless lifeline for the fiscally challenged. Do you think they’d let me go to the bank to borrow money so I can pay my mortgage to the same bank?

Now, if John McCain really believes we need to cut taxes, he should come out against this bailout. Best, however, to discuss “long-term reforms,” preferably of the painless sort. Wake me up when Mr. and Mrs. Straight Talk point out that a streamlined Fannie and Freddie could make it harder for the average American to get a loan or when they discuss the details of how their reforms will keep that from happening.

After all, before these companies existed to enrich MBAs, stockholders, former politicians and foreign creditors, they existed to help Americans.

If something is too big to fail, shouldn’t it be completely part of the government rather than lie in some netherworld between the public and private sectors? That’s the only question worth asking in light of the Fed’s proposed bailout of our two big mortgage giants, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

What also seems odd is the constant reassurance from figures of authority that nothing is really wrong, that Fannie and Freddie don’t really need any money from the Fed. Then why all the fuss and bother?

At some point, someone in power (and their enablers) will have to start reading from a reality-based playbook. How else do you explain the large number of people who believe the country is on the wrong track and the large number of pundits and commentators who insist everything deep down is really OK?

Maybe Phil Gramm was right. Or maybe, just maybe, if you start to think about it, just for a fraction of a second, as crazy as it may sound and despite all of Gramm’s degrees and years in public life, he has no idea what he’s talking about. He just wants questions about the economy to go away.

Now that sounds like a reality-based playbook for a presidential campaign in 2008.