Possibly one or two of the three or four people who actually read these screeds may remember that I have been generally unimpressed with what passes for bipartisanism these days. When there isn't a dime's worth of qualititative difference between the two major parties, looking for a good five-cent consensus seems mostly a waste of energy.

And now, all of a sudden, the bleeding hearts of the left and the flinty hearts of the right have managed to outflank the putative moderates in between, in uniting to oppose President Clinton's proposal to help replenish the drained coffers of the International Monetary Fund, unity we haven't seen since before NAFTA became a four-letter word. And Mr Clinton's vaunted ability to argue both sides of an issue may not be enough this time to save his plan.

Aid from the IMF comes with serious strings attached, usually resulting in austerity programs and temporary hardship for much of the population. Congressional liberals argue that the IMF approach rides roughshod over the middle class while sparing the true culprits. And they do have something of a point: the really, really rich, as usual, avoid most of the pain and sorrow, and the really, really poor might well consider "temporary hardship" an improvement over their usual lot.

On the other side of the aisle, economic conservatives point out that the infusion of IMF aid, which is intended to keep a country from defaulting on its debts, has the unintended effect of encouraging more of the same risky loans that got the country into trouble in the first place. Better, they say, to let the default process run its course, and let the bankers who made those bad loans take their losses.

I could point out that neither of these arguments got much of a hearing during the American savings-and-loan fiasco of a few years back, partly because it was painfully obvious that both sides were caught napping, and partly because various Congressmen were greatly enriched by some of the perpetrators. And most likely there wouldn't be this burgeoning revolt if, instead of Indonesia and South Korea, the IMF proposed to bail out Indiana and South Dakota. No doubt the President feels some sort of obligation to the suffering Pacific Rim, especially since so many of its movers and shakers saw fit to contribute to his reelection campaign, but irritated Republicans and embarrassed Democrats see no reason to support his scheme to pump dollars into the IMF. If the plan is defeated, perhaps "bipartisan" as a description will actually become more meaningful than, say, the average Microsoft shipping date.

The Vent

#85
18 January 1998

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