Emergency States of America | NBC New York

Emergency States of America

A decade of governance by crisis



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    A rush to bipartisanship: (left to right)Senators Joseph Lieberman, Ben Nelson, Arlen Specter andSusan Collins help craft a crisis-driven $780 billion economic stimulus package -- the details of which few senators have read.

    One thing hasn't changed in the move from Bush to Obama: We still have government by emergency.

    Maine GOP moderate Sen. Susan Collins had it exactly right Saturday night. After she signed off on a shaky stimulus deal she told a reporter that,  "At a time of crisis, we can work together."

    Doesn't it seem like the country's been in "a time of crisis" -- of one sort or another -- for a heck of a long time?  And the results of this governance by crisis are not good to see, regardless of who's running the country. 

    Governance by crisis means the public and the Congress are pushed into supporting "must-pass" legislation, quick, fast and in a hurry -- or else. The consequences of not passing the said legislation is described as invariably dire...disastrous...catastrophic.

    Unfortunately, there's only one sure thing known from the passage of legislation of the last several years is that they have produced results that are almost invariably expensive -- if not cataclysmic and disastrous.

    The first clear example of this "Emergency Rule" is the passage of the PATRIOT Act. What actually was in the Act was a hodgepodge of laws that various intelligence agencies wanted passed for years. It never got anywhere because there was enough resistance by civil libertarians on the left and right to prevent passage in Congress.

    Funny how an attack on the nation will change that. While the PATRIOT Act didn't break the budget (the only thing on this list for which that is true), its swift and almost unanimous passage after the 9/11 terrorist attacks created situations a few years later where members of Congress were seemingly surprised when librarians started getting "national security" letters, correspondence that they couldn't even acknowledge receiving without violating the Act.

    Then almost exactly a year later, the WMD case for war with Iraq was punctuated with rhetorical images of a "smoking gun that might be a mushroom cloud." Of course, the Iraq War -- even as it appears to be won is still part of a never-ending conflict whose price tag is now running into the trillions.

    Next came the September 2008 bank bailout, where congress approved a $700 billion loan with no clear plan on how it would be spent. But the funds HAD to be approved or all Western financial system would collapse. So it passed.

    Of course, the economy is still in the tank, banks still aren't lending, so, it's time for what might ultimately be a $2 trillion "bad bank" bailout! That MUST pass or else!

    But before that, we HAVE to pass a $780 billion stimulus package or else the recession will be a depression.

    But, wait, more than a few items have very little to do with actual stimulus but are more about what's been on the left-of-center "wish list" for decades! Yep, this is partly the liberal economic version of the PATRIOT Act: Throw everything in and see if anybody really notices, until it's too late.

    So, of course, it's no surprise that the national debt has doubled over the last eight years and continues to soar out of control, with Obama adding hundreds of billions to the bill that Bush left the country.

    This doesn't mean that every one of the above legislation didn't have some good ideas or intentions within them. However, it means that the "emergency impulse" to legislate inevitably pushes items through in the name of immediacy.  A more reasoned approach could have created better laws with less downside and likely made the package less expense.

    Instead, we have governance by desperation, by emergency. Remember when your folks told you that it's "not wise to make rash decisions" and "haste makes waste"?

    They were right.

    Robert A. George is a New York writer. He blogs at Ragged Thots and dabbles in stand-up comedy.