President George W. Bush: having failed in three nationally televised statements to make the case for the bailout effectively, it's someone else's turn. What's needed is someone to explode the myths that have grown up around the proposed government bailout. Here's how Barack Obama could take a stab at it:
I think it might be a jest of God that we are trying to solve a global financial crisis at a time when partisanship is in full flower, with an election just five weeks away in which members of Congress have reason to expect they will encounter hostility over this bailout in their districts. Meanwhile, we are also coping with a major slowdown in the U.S. economy.
We probably couldn't ask for less favourable conditions to do what so obviously needs to be done - to rescue the financial system that is fundamental to capitalism and our standard of living. And that explains why our efforts have been halting, and have failed to gain the approval of the American people.
Americans are rightly angry at Wall Street CEOs who crippled the financial system we rely on to finance the purchase of a house or a car; to borrow funds for college tuition, as my wife, Michelle, and I had to do, and to launch and expand the businesses that provide well-paying jobs to scores of millions of Americans.
I fear that in its haste to set things right, Washington - and I include myself in this - have failed to explain this rescue mission, the true cost of the mission, and why it is so essential we get on with completing this mission.
I would ask Americans to keep three things in mind as we continue negotiating a plan to stabilize and restore the health of our financial system.
I'd ask you, first, to consider what's at stake. And here, one simple fact will suffice, I think. The total losses from the collapse of our housing boom are estimated at $2 trillion. But so far, banks, brokerages and other financial institutions have written off only one-quarter of that amount. The remaining $1.5 trillion in potential losses on the horizon are simply too big for our American and the global system to survive without the intervention of governments here and abroad.
What's at stake is very personal for each of us. The remaining, staggering financial-industry losses that await us would inflict calamitous personal losses beyond calculation. We will not only lose access to the everyday banking services that keep the economy running. We will endure severe losses on our 401K plans and other retirement nest eggs with the resulting stock-market collapse. And our businesses, large and small, already struggling to raise funds in a financial system now stuck in "credit gridlock," will lose access to the loans and lines of credit they need to stay in business and to grow, a real threat to our jobs in a workplace where the jobless rate has already risen to 6.1 per cent, and has shed more than 600,000 jobs this year.
My second point is that this is not, contrary to widespread belief, a bailout of the reckless Wall Street CEOs who brought the system to its knees. As Franklin Roosevelt said during an earlier banking and stock-market crisis, the "rulers of the exchange of mankind's goods have failed through their own stubbornness and incompetence, have admitted to their failure, and have abdicated."
Seventy years later, the irresponsible CEOs who got us into this mess are long gone from the scene. They have quit or been fired. Our major financial institutions today are being run by able, prudent executives wholly occupied with restoring health to their organizations.
So this is not a bailout of greedy fat cats on Wall Street. In a very real sense, we are bailing ourselves out. We are striving to protect our local banks, of which there are more than 8,000 in America, and the essential services they provide.
You must know, too, that the rehabilitation package that both parties in Congress have developed, with the President's active encouragement, includes unprecedented protections for consumers, Main Street investors, and taxpayers, so that nothing remotely like this catastrophe can ever happen again.
I've made my share of criticisms of Washington in my campaign. But I have never seen such a spirit of genuine bipartisanship on Capitol Hill in attacking a threat to our nation, with the Congressional leadership of both parties and their designated negotiators eating out of pizza boxes in meetings lasting until four in the morning to develop a workable rescue plan. John McCain and I, for our part, are agreed that the ceiling for government-insured deposits should be raised from $100,000 per person to $250,000.
Finally, we need to understand that the admittedly large sum of $700 billion to be made available to help struggling financial institutions - be they your neighbourhood bank, or the company that insures your house, or the mutual fund manager who oversees your retirement savings - is not money thrown to the winds, as it is too often depicted.
That large sum was chosen to signal to global financial markets that America will do whatever is required to restore stability and safety to the global financial system, in which America is the undisputed leader.
We may not need all that money. And it will be released in smaller amounts, with careful government oversight at each stage.
And, if history is any indication, the American taxpayer will get much if not most of those bailout funds back. This happened as recently as the savings and loan crisis in the 1980s and the Mexican currency bailout in the 1990s, which prevented a global currency meltdown. In that last case, the American taxpayer actually made a profit when our Mexican ally promptly paid back the funds with interest.
In this case, there is real value to most of the distressed assets that the Treasury Department will be empowered to buy from stricken institutions. And those assets will be sold when the timing is right, with the proceeds returned to the taxpayers.
Again, I apologize that we in Washington have not done an adequate job of describing what's at stake in these bailout negotiations, how the mission is designed to work, and its true costs as best as we can estimate them. In our haste to put out the fire, we also haven't taken the time to describe the protections we are putting in place to prevent future conflagrations.
This crisis has been a traumatic event for Americans, compounded by a jarring drop in stock-market values and an economic slowdown that has brought substantial job loss. I regret this crisis has distracted us from issues of great significance facing ourselves and future generations, including health care and educational reform, rebuilding our Armed Forces, the fight against terrorism, securing our energy self-sufficiency, and maintaining our global competitiveness to keep high-paying jobs here at home.
But as Americans, we are bigger than this financial crisis. We soon will restore stability to this system that is the underpinning of capitalism itself. As Americans, we have repeatedly proved we are uniquely able to confront more than one daunting challenge of historic proportions at a time. That's why Senator McCain and I are continuing to talk about the full range of 21st-century challenges every day.
We will overcome this passing trauma, if we show the will we've so often exhibited in the past. And soon enough, Americans will take the global lead in embracing the other larger-than-life challenges and opportunities the 21st-century has in store for us.