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There’s this notion going around that tough times will reveal the true character of America. It’s a good bit of marketing and satisfies our desire for myth. But it’s baloney.

When you’re backed up against a wall, you learn one thing: people have a keen sense of survival and a knack for self-preservation. It’s those other times that show us what we’re made of, like those times everyone thought they could get rich buying and selling tech stocks  houses  oil futures hope?

I guess Bush will take the blame from a lot of people. But whatever else he did, he didn’t force anyone to take on a mortgage they couldn’t afford.

But didn’t he and his cronies create the climate that made all those criminal excesses possible? I suppose they might bear some responsibility, but people have to take their share of the blame occassionally.

We get the leaders that serve up what we want to believe, and we very badly wanted to believe in everlasting wealth.

It doesn’t mean we still can’t become Treasury Secretary some day, even if it means a come-down in pay.

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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.

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