That my inbox overflowing with erudite analyses of the sorry state of our nation's financial system has left me in a state not unusual in the waxing of the information age - simultaneously better informed about the details, a bit confused from all the conflicting certitude of the various experts, and absolutely bereft of the sort of ethically and spiritually well-groundedness that served my forebears well in their own troubled times.
So, while our own wise ones are still making their way through the trees in search of the forest, why not seek the wisdom of the elders?
I think I'll let the late Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, an early chairman of the SEC during the New Deal, answer the question about the inevitability of corporate temptation for me. It was his opinion that, ultimately, greed and cunning are inevitable - that they are based in human foibles that, like any other primally-driven ethics breaches and crimes, cannot be outlawed out of existence, much less out of temptation. As the story goes, he likened average innocent investors to "ground squirrels" that were the natural prey of Wall Street's "coyotes." But he didn't just give up in the face of that inevitability. No, he said that that's why tough regulation is essential.
Lately, absent regulatory strength, we've become overly dependent in the task of putting the brakes on corporate abuses on courts increasingly unsuited to the task because they've been overtaken by appointees schooled and placed by the consumers' most tireless adversary, Robert Bork and his Federalist Society's dedication to inflicting on us all the soullessness of the philosophical heirs of Frank Knight and his Chicago School of Economics. (It should come as no surprise that, typically, Bork's devotees are not often a queer's best friend, legally speaking.)
The courts just aren't up to the job anymore and won't be again for, at minimum, a couple of decades - and then only if we're politically very lucky.
Thus I'm not alone, especially now that the financial crisis has shone a light on the devastating effects of deregulation, in hoping that leaders with toughness enough to satisfy the likes of Douglas, a man described in his regulatory role as "an avid skeptic" with "due regard for the public's well-being," will resurface elsewhere in our government, bringing honesty and transparency into Wall Street's dealings as well as making the case for effective regulation in Washington's halls of power.
But will we get there? Two pieces in last week's news have given me pause.
The first was one that touched on the answer Gov. Sarah Palin recently gave (either in the debate with Sen. Biden or in an interview - I don't remember which) to a question asking if there was anything the current administration had done that she could find fault with. She responded that there was one thing - that they had let government grow too much. There was no follow-up and she didn't go into details (surprise, surprise) so I don't know exactly what aspect of government growth to which she referred. But, in the face of the many recent crises that could have been averted had regulatory oversight not been woefully underfunded to the point of having nowhere near the regulatory personnel, etc., needed, it was a remark that raised a huge red flag for me.
The second was an article from last Sunday from the Miami Herald's website section for also-rans that didn't make the publication cut for the print edition but which they found too valuable not to make available to the public, "Government by Goldman Sachs," which discussed "neoliberalism" (a term theretofore "neo" to me) and how even sweeping partisan change will not necessarily create a fertile climate for regulatory restoration.
The author particularly speaks to those of us who've been the pawns in the great partisan culture wars and, while intending to speak to the financial system crisis, explains with elegant simplicity why our slavish party loyalties have so often heartbreakingly not paid off for us: "Shadow boxing over values enabled the two parties to retain their separate brands despite the similarity in their basic philosophies" - that "public policies were those that won the confidence of the markets," meaning, in practice, they "let financial power set the parameters of public policy."
The tag line, "We would have realized the silliness of complaining about political polarization in Washington when, in matters of fundamental import, the choice was between the Democratic former CEO of Goldman Sachs and the Republican former CEO of Goldman Sachs: Robert Rubin or Hank Paulson," both explains the op-ed's title and my growing fears that no amount of partisan change will bring the policy changes we really need either in our nation's financial crisis nor for us as queers dependent on a het majority that has yet to see us as equally fully human.
Perhaps less of a true believer would throw up hands in disgust, claiming something like, "you can't fight city hall," but I've bitten the eternal vigilance bullet and, like Justice Douglas, think it's possible, despite the inevitability of the excesses, to curb them as long as we don't, in our desperate need for love, equality and security, succumb to virtual versions of them instead.
As those who've come before us in the quest for civil rights advised, we must "keep our eyes on the prize." And to do that, as the crones say, "Can we be like drops of water falling on a stone - splashing, breaking, dispersing in air - weaker than the stone by far but be aware that, as time goes by, the rock will wear away."