Fineman: Bailout Ushers in the Era of Obama

WASHINGTON - The Obama Administration began at midnight Sunday.

Okay, I exaggerate.

But I am trying to make a point.

Which is this: Even if Sen. Barack Obama loses the presidential election — and of course he may — the playing field of our politics now has shifted seismically in his philosophical direction.

The era of cowboy capitalism has died, largely of self-inflicted wounds. Who knows what’s coming now? I do: A new era of tight business regulation and government intervention in the markets.

For now, and perhaps for many years, there will be no going back.

The Rubicon was crossed this weekend, when the deal was struck for a $700 billion federal takeover of the carcass of Wall Street.

At that moment, the conservative era in America, which began with Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980, ended. It did so not with a bang, but with a whimper — a cry of help from erstwhile Masters of the Universe who suddenly feared for their platinum-level lives.

Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson could hear those cries because, until two years ago, he was a Master himself.

For decades, conservatives had fought — in very good conscience — to unshackle free enterprise from the grip of statist thinking, the kind of thinking represented at its most suffocating by communism. It was a worthy fight; Hayek was right: the “road to serfdom” lies in the idea that The State is the answer to everything.

But Wall Street and Washington (especially the hacks at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) produced, in addition to colossal profits, a farrago of greed unseen since the Roaring Twenties, which was the last time, by the way, that the gulf between the rich and poor was as wide as it is today.

That party is over.

If Obama does win, it will be because of the economic crisis now upon us, of which the bailout is the capstone and political symbol.

The crisis has had two pro-Obama effects.

For one, it yanked the national consciousness away from security and terrorism, Sen. John McCain’s two strongest areas of expertise and appeal.

Second, the crisis underscored and amplified the yearning in the country for something — and someone — new. Voters have been saying for more than a year that they want change. Now they REALLY want it.

Suddenly, “experience” and purported expertise mean next to nothing. After all, Dick Cheney was “experienced,” and what did that get us? And George W. Bush had a Harvard MBA! And what did that get us?

Cheney and Bush have given credentials a bad name. If that is the case, why not go for a fellow who by virtue of his very being represents change: a new generation, a new demographic, a new outlook?

And Obama does represent something new — or, rather, something old that is new again. He believes it is the role of government to help people and regulate the markets. He is a lawyer by training, and believes in the use of the law (and the courts) for the common good. He doesn’t, frankly, know much about economics or the profits — those were not his specialties in law or life.

He’s a law professor and community organizer! Those are two categories it has been fashionable for conservatives to revile for decades. Well, perhaps the wheel turns.

It’s no coincidence that Obama now has his biggest lead in the Gallup Daily Tracking Poll. Watch and see what happens now.

In fairness, Democrats (the “soft money” hedge-fund crowd of the Clinton 90s and the party hacks who got rich at Fannie and Freddie) are as guilty as the Bush-era Republicans (who argued against ANY regulation of anything).

But, as the Kennedys liked to say, life isn’t fair — and neither is politics.

McCain is desperately trying to show that he, too, is willing to blame Republicans, but the more he does so the deeper he digs himself into a hole. The senator was right when he labeled Chris Cox, the chairman of the SEC, one of the culprits. Cox should have had the decency to resign. But the fact that McCain was right about Cox just proves the point. It was Bush, who nominated all three horsemen of the apocalypse — Cox, Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.

Politics is like baseball. If your team loses, you remember who struck out in the ninth inning, not who struck out in the fourth.

And we’re in the ninth.

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