Color me shocked. Seriously. Today, George W. Bush openly mentioned the possibility that the U.S. may be staring down the barrel of what various parties have been referring to for months and even years as “the Greater Depression.” And it’s all on video.
The big moment came in the wake of today’s G20 summit in Washington, D.C., which was called to help the world’s major international players coordinate a coherent response to the raging global financial and economic crisis. It was after the summit and Bush was speaking to the delegates in front of a camera to deliver a kind of farewell address and sum up what they had all talked about and accomplished. He started talking about the “extraordinary measures” that the United States has already taken to deal with the crisis. And then he said it:
Those of you who have followed my career know that I’m a free market person — until you’re told that if you don’t take decisive measures then it’s conceivable that our country could go into a depression greater than the Great Depression.
Then he went on to talk about the measures that his administration and the American Congress had taken in response to the crisis. But I didn’t hear much of those later words because my ears were still ringing from that astonishing admission.
Call me excitable, but I consider this a watershed moment. And that’s even though I’m decidedly disgusted by those ridiculous people who are always waiting gleefully to read the most far-fetched meanings into things. Surely we all noticed a couple of months ago how the Bush administration went from broad denial to over-the-top alarmism in about 30 seconds. First Bush, Bernanke, Paulson, and Co. were denying the glaring reality of an entrenched, nasty, historic economic crisis (not just a financial one) bearing down on us. This denial began in summer 2007 and lasted right up until a couple of months ago. They wouldn’t even admit that we were in recession, as if their stubborn rhetorical adherence to the “technical” definition of a recession was somehow supposed to prove or help anything. And then, literally overnight — you can look back at the archived newscasts and newspapers from August and September to verify the zero-to-60 nature of it — they exploded into frantic warnings that we would see immediate financial collapse and even the imposition of martial law if, for example, Congress didn’t immediately and unhesitatingly pass the original “Emperor Hank” version of Paulson’s $700 billion rescue plan.
And now it’s mid-November and here’s Bush telling everybody frankly, calmly, and openly that he’s been warned about the real possibility of our sliding into the worst depression our nation has ever, and he says this has been enough to knock the free marketeer right out of him. Of course this all raises the nagging question of just who delivered the warning. Paulson? Bernanke? Members of Congress? Ron Paul? But this speculation, however interesting, is tangential. What I’m most interested in is the mere fact that he said it, since it marks a revolutionary transition from entrenched denial to open admission, and also underscores the really dire character of our current juncture. Or maybe the change is just one more manipulative and ideologically driven attempt to “spin” events through the sheer power of rhetoric to shape perception and emotion.
Whatever the case, it’s momentous. You can watch and hear Bush say the words yourself at the BBC’s site. The video clip is a little over four minutes long, and the part I’m talking about occurs at 1:10.