BLOG VIEW: The Passed Buck

Last Tuesday, the Republican presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain, was interviewed on NBC's ‘The Today Show.’ He was asked how he would respond to the current crisis that is disfiguring the nation's financial services industry.

McCain's answer was not exactly what most people wanted or desired: ‘We need a 9/11 commission, and we need a commission to figure out what went wrong and how to fix it,’' he said. ‘And I know we can do it and how to do it.’

McCain's notion of setting up a commission is extraordinary – for all of the wrong reasons. A fact-finding commission is not feasible at this time – such an endeavor could drag on for months, and there is no guarantee that the final results will be embraced. (Let's not forget that the bulk of the 9/11 commission's findings weren't exactly embraced by the White House).

Mercifully, the current White House team doesn't subscribe to the notion of recruiting a commission to handle the current crisis. The soon-to-exit Bush presidency is literally reconfiguring the nation's financial services industry and the regulatory powers that govern it; I don't believe we've ever seen such a lame duck presidency act with such vigor.

But at the same time, the White House has passed the buck – Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke are front and center in leading the effort to save the economy. President Bush, outside of a brief appearance before the White House press corps in the middle of last week, has been absent from public view in his role of team captain.

You cannot blame the White House for keeping the president out of sight: With approval poll ratings well below the 30% mark, President Bush lost the confidence of the American public a long time ago. But I believe that a great deal of the panic and turmoil that is rocking the financial markets could have been alleviated if there was a strong president who would assure the country that we can and will pull through this storm. President Bush's press conference comments were both late and irrelevant – he was commenting after the fact on matters that the Treasury Secretary and Fed Chairman already addressed.

The absence of a forceful, take-charge elected leader to guide the country through a crisis is sending a seriously mixed message: Yes, the Executive Branch is on top of things, but who is calling the shots? Paulson and Bernanke are fine men, but no one elected them president. And the fact that the financial markets and the general public are looking to the Treasury Secretary and Fed Chairman, instead of the president, is astonishing.

Of course, in fairness to the White House, there isn't exactly a surplus of take-charge leadership at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. Can anyone recall ever having to put up with such a do-nothing Congress? It appears the Congressional leadership abdicated the serious thinking to Paulson and Bernanke, offering little more than after-the-fact commentary on the issues at hand.

The next president and the next Congress cannot afford to make these mistakes. Leadership is the ability to take charge of a crisis, not delegate solutions elsewhere or let someone else do the hard work. This void of authority cannot persist any further.

– Phil Hall, editor, Secondary Marketing Executive.

(Please address all comments regarding this opinion column to hallp@sme-online.com.)

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