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As Everett Dirksen (or was it Yogi Berra) supposedly said one time, " A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you're talking real money."
I think $700 billion qualifies as real money. And it's obviously a lot easier to talk about than think about.
Consider the results of a poll conducted last weekend and reported Tuesday by the Pew Research Center. There's a reductio ad absurdum quality to the central question Pew asked, which was this: "As you may know, the government is potentially investing billions to try and keep financial institutions and markets secure. Do you think this is the right thing or the wrong thing for the government to be doing?"
Right? Wrong? The debate is less about the investment than about the terms. Concerning those, good men and women might not only disagree but pummel each other with alpenstocks.
At any rate, Pew reports that 57 percent thought investing billions of dollars was the right thing for Washington to do. Republicans were a little more likely to think so than Democrats and Independents, but not by much.
If that sounds like a vote of confidence in Washington, it isn't. Pew says 77 percent thought Washington was doing a "fair" or "poor" job of dealing with the "financial problems on Wall Street."
Here's the finding that tells all. According to Pew, 24 percent said they understood the financial crisis "very well" (I'm pretty sure this overstates reality by at least 23.5 percent, but whatever), 48 percent said they understood it "fairly well," and 28 percent said they had "little or no understanding of the situation."
And in these three groups, 54 percent, 58 percent, and 54 percent respectively supported the bailout. When Washington and our financial pundits all say in unison that unless we do this the global economy collapses and we wake up back in 1929, sophistication jumps just as high as ignorance.
So, who should lead us out of this mess? Or as Pew put it, "Regardless of which candidate you prefer, which candidate do you think could best address the problems investment banks and companies with ties to the housing market are having?"
The response: Barack Obama, 47 percent; John McCain, 35 percent. But let's take a closer look at those numbers. Among Democrats, 81 percent said Obama; among Republicans, 81 percent said McCain. The difference was made by independents, who favored Obama 44 percent to 30 percent.
I think what the Pew poll tells us is that blind loyalty seems to be alive and well in America, as is the willingness of the American people, in a time of crisis, to put their trust in a government they don't trust.
Or maybe they aren't so willing. Pew heard one thing from the public last weekend, the Rasmussen Reports another. Rasmussen asked, "Do you favor or oppose the proposal for the federal government to purchase up to $700 billion in assets from finance companies?" The results: 28 percent in favor, 37 percent opposed, a whopping 35 percent not sure. Rasmussen didn't make it as clear that this was Washington's own proposal, but it was explicit about what the bailout would cost.