Beware of politicians who are willing to blame anyone but themselves for a crisis.
While the president and Congress charge pell-mell into a $700 billion taxpayer bailout of Wall Street, Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., said "The private sector got us into this mess. The government has to get us out of it."
And that seems to sum up the bumper-sticker explanation one side of the political aisle wants to attach to the crisis, only weeks away from an election. The other side, meanwhile, seems to be fumbling for explanations because it has long championed the private market, but it doesn't want to lay blame on Congress or the president, either.
A more detached analysis of the situation, however, could easily lay blame at the feet of a Federal Reserve that was too eager to reduce interest rates to levels lower than inflation, and to a Congress that passed laws, such as the Community Reinvestment Act, that required banks to make high-risk loans to low-income borrowers, or to regulators who looked the other way.
Sure, investors deserve a share of the blame, too, but that is the only side that seems to get any attention in Washington. Besides, the market already has a way of dealing with bad behavior among its own.
Meanwhile, what we know about the proposed bailout so far gives us plenty of reasons to worry.
It might allow judges to rewrite mortgages, thus effectively weakening the power of contracts. It might empower the government to buy up bad credit card debts from any financial institution in order to stabilize the economy, thus encouraging institutions to make more outrageous credit card offers to people who don't have the means to pay.
One section of the bill reportedly would give the treasury secretary power to make broad decisions that could not be reviewed by any agency or court of law.
Admittedly, this is the nation's worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, but that is no excuse to rush through a deal fraught with bad public policies. Wall Street reacted to these ideas with a huge selloff on Monday. Despite the wisdom Congress likes to think it possesses, it caused a good deal of the problem and is now too eager to jump in and make things worse.