MESA, Ariz. -- These people on "Main Street" of whom the beltway crowd of legislators and journalists always talk are more than a little confused over what is going on in Washington.
Mesa, Arizona is a sizable town that has a real street called "Main." It really is an extension of another town's main street named Apache Trail in Apache Junction. You can find as many "real" Americans as you want in these two really old American communities. No matter which watering spot is checked, from Dunkin' Doughnuts to Starbucks to the innumerable western bars, no one has the faintest idea of what's going on -- but they don't like it.
To begin with, the "folks" on Main Street, as Bill O'Reilly calls the American people, haven't a clue as to what is meant by "making the taxpayer whole." This term has been used a great deal in the hearings. Frankly they are most amused at the idea that there is something called "taxpayer money." "Ain't all the money they got that there taxpayer money?" asks Don. Westerners prefer the anonymity and friendliness of first names only.
Of course, Don is right. It's all taxpayer money; there isn't any other money other than what the USG gets from taxes, fees and borrowed cash from flogging U.S. Treasury-backed notes around the country and all the rest of the world that lets them print up all those greenbacks. "Aren't we, the folks, on the hook for all this stuff in the end, I mean?" he asked. Don seems to have a very good handle on the credit problem.
They had the Senate Banking Committee on the television in the Main Street Bar. The Bartender said his regulars liked to shout at the senators. As true Americans they didn't discriminate by political party, though Jim Bunning was the favorite because they all knew he was a Hall of Fame baseball player and spoke in non-sequiturs that are closer to real American talk than anything else. He was against everything and that's a good start in any southwestern drinking establishment.
Mesa is a hardworking town. In a way it's a boomtown, but it never admits it. It has boutiques and upscale houses as well as more than its share of trailer camps and illegals. Its county sheriff enjoys being "the toughest sheriff in the U.S." What they are quick to do, however, is stick a verbal pin in pompous politicians.
The folks stopping off midmorning for a cup of coffee or an early beer were in general agreement that the Senate Banking Committee members didn't seem to know any more than they did. They weren't too sure about Secretary Paulson, whose role in the whole business was unclear to them. They knew he was there representing the Bush White House and the guy next to him with a beard was a sort of professor who headed something like the U.S. Federal Bank, or bank reserve, or something. Close enough in both cases.
PART OF THE CONFUSION was that the TV anchors kept referring to the personal background of the two Senate witnesses, emphasizing that Paulson had been for many years the chairman of the investment firm of Goldman Sachs and that Ben Bernanke was an academic who was an expert on The Great Depression. Yes, it's all confusing. Paulson's biography was briefly stated as playing football at Dartmouth, then getting a Harvard MBA, and quickly becoming part of the Nixon staff in 1970. One middle-aged veteran, still wearing his dog tags, nursed his pre-lunch beer and muttered, "Draft dodger!" So much for Paulson in that bar.
The folks don't know what the economic danger is about which all the fuss is being made. They know about the fact that people have been dumping their houses because they couldn't be sold. They know there are foreclosure and for sale signs all over the region. They know that sales are being run everywhere and that supposedly there is a great deal of unemployment.
Nonetheless, Arizona has 5.6% unemployment through September 1 compared to 6.1% nationwide. Local news carried that quite prominently. Construction jobs are still available, though most of the itinerant workers seemed to have diminished in numbers. Prices at the gas pump are still the main worry for the folks, along with rising costs at the supermarket. But that's been the case for quite a while.
"What's so damned dire they gotta take that 700 billion and give it to Wall Street -- whatever that is?" Don asks. He didn't have the answer and he had been watching the TV for an hour.
Perhaps the Senate Banking Committee should move its meeting to Main St., Mesa, AZ if its really want some answers. They'd at least get a good cup of coffee or a cooling beer.