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Paul Newman Federal Bailout

The bailout what would Paul Newman do?

Some say the economy is suffering from the precursors to the largest financial disaster in our country’s history. But in the midst of it all, we lost one of the greatest actors of the 20th century and an all around great American in Paul Newman.
In addition to being an academy award winner, Newman also served in World War II and, at the time of his death at age 83, his total charitable contributions had exceeded $220 million. This is a man who not only served when his country needed him to, but continued to give back as much as he could throughout his life and continues to give posthumously through the charitable Newman’s Own food company. In reflecting on this remarkable life, while watching the stock market drop and the debate on the bailout heat up, I wondered – what would Paul Newman do?

I decided to turn off the talking heads this weekend and pop
Cool Hand Luke into the DVD player figuring I would garner about as much wisdom from it as I would from the pundits on TV. In the movie, Paul Newman (A.K.A. Cool Hand Luke) goes to prison for destroying municipal property. As Luke entered the male-dominated penile system, we are introduced to each inmate whom, while despite all being criminals, all claim their innocence. I couldn’t help but compare this prison to our own government and the Members of Congress. Nicknames from the movie such as Captain, Loudmouth, Dragline and Boss compare to those in our government of the Hammer, Maverick, Blue Dogs and Whip. It turns out these were only the beginning of the similarities. Take the way the chain gang worked at clearing the side of the road, only to do the exact same thing the next day – no matter how fast or slow the work was done, nothing ever really got finished. Or maybe it was watching how the only time they were motivated was when making a bet to eat 50 eggs in one hour or watching the fisticuffs on Saturday afternoon sounds a lot like claiming to balance the federal budget in 8 years or pulling our troops out of Iraq in 6 months.

With all of these glaring similarities, I knew that there must be a foreshadowing of our financial turmoil and the bailout before Congress. And just as I overhear the Captain say to the imprisoned hoard, “What we got here is a failure to communicate,” it hits me – like any good relationship, the number one way to avoid any problem is communication. So I thought back to the President of the United States saying we needed this $700 billion bailout and realized it was the exact same thing that not only the two presidential hopefuls were saying, but it was also the same thing as the Treasury Secretary, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, the Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission and the leadership of both the Democrat and Republican parties in the House and the Senate were saying. It is a wonder that with this unprecedented bipartisan mouthpiece that a final agreement was not easily reached. It doesn’t take very long on talk radio or the editorial pages to figure out where the communication was breaking down it is that the American people by and large do not understand why taxpayers should bail out a bunch of Wall Street firms who were greedy and irresponsible to begin with without the legislation including any punishments or major regulatory fixes to prevent the next big bailout from being discussed in the future. So when the President and Members of Congress come on TV and say they need this bailout in order to do their jobs and to fix the country’s financial woes, the people seem to have heeded the wisdom again of Paul Newman and Cool Hand Luke when he said, prior to being sentenced to a night in the box, “calling it your job don’t make it right.”

If the President and the Department of Treasury want $700 billion of taxpayer money and want Congress to give it to them, then the President and Congress needs to come up with a plan for what exactly that money is going to do and a plan on who to punish for letting this mess get this far. The people have been burned enough in the past by handing over blank checks to administrations trying to do their job and have also seen the multiple calamities from the fallout of bad accounting from companies like Enron and Arthur Anderson. The trust in our government is not there just yet on this issue, and so Congress is left with nothing.
And right now the people in general are ok with that because “sometimes nothin’ can be a real cool hand.”

So if the political leadership in the country is having a tough time figuring out why the bailout is failing despite members crossing the aisle in an historic way, it is because the people are not behind it. After all, the US House of Representatives is also called “The People’s House.” It looks like for the time being we are back to where we started – “a failure to communicate.” However, those up for election soon should take note – those were also the last words of Cool Hand Luke right before the boss shot him in the chest.