Perhaps one of the amazing things about the bailouts of large banks and financial institutions in the fall of 2008 is that the bailouts were not really a contentious point among candidates during the fall campaign, largely because the heads of both party tickets, Barack Obama and John McCain, supported them.
But two years later the bailouts have become an issue, at least among Republican primary voters, and a good example of this is taking place today in South Carolina, where two GOP congressmen, Bob Inglis running for re-election and Gresham Barrett running for governor, are seeing their votes for the bailouts used like a club against them in primary runoffs. Indeed, if they both lose, the bailouts will be the main reason.
One would have thought the idea of the little guy, the average Joe and Jane taxpayer, paying off the debts of institutions like J.P. Morgan or General Motors would have aroused the passions of the Left, yet it is on the Right that this has happened. Part of this is due to Obama’s election creating a populist vacuum on the Left as everyone was into hope and change. But one can argue that the main catalyst for creating the Tea Party movement, aside from a rant about mortgages, was the bailouts and not, as some would have you believe, excessive government spending. The Tea Partiers are far from united on that point. But what they almost all agree on is the feds had no business trying to save large financial institutions that brought about their own demise through bad loans, bad mortgages, and derivatives trading. Doing so was a deep betrayal of everything these Main Street Americans believed in — a betrayal of their values by their so-called leaders and the political party they supported. Thus the outrage and sense of wanting to do something about it was ready to be lit into flame.
That flame has burned up several GOP incumbents either running for re-election like Sen. Bob Bennett or Rep. Parker Griffith or running for other office like Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (others have survived, but their bailout votes certainly encouraged primary contests they hadn’t expected). It would have zapped Sen. Arlen Specter if he stayed in the GOP. It may very well engulf Sen. John McCain in his primary battle with former Congressman J.D. Hayworth.
The sad thing is, Inglis was a Republican who at least had some reflective capacity of what went wrong with the party during the last decade. Much like fellow Rep. Walter Jones Jr. of neighboring North Carolina, he voted against the “surge” in Iraq in 2007. Unlike other Republican politicians, he’s not intimidated or a blind follower of the voices and the money of Conservative Inc. But the party loyalty and loyalty to the president which caused the GOP to fall out of power in 2006 and 2008 is still claiming victims in 2010. Many Republicans cast a vote against their better judgment, and they’re paying for it. Retrospective is a nice quality compared to the willful blindness so many on the Right have about the past. The problem is, right-thinking and regret amidst the ruins do not appeal to voters.