The Masters of the Universe were always figments of the imagination, plastic toys and comic book heroes and celluloid characters with outsized muscles and egos. When the novelist Tom Wolfe borrowed the mythic male action figure to satirize the rising class of young Wall Street financiers in the late 1980’s in his classic Bonfire of the Vanities, some real life traders and investment bankers actually began to believe that they were, truly, Masters of the Universe. Today, the downfall of Sherman McCoy, Wolfe’s fictional Master of the Universe, is an allegory come true for thousands of real life Wall Street workers. McCoy’s wrong turn and crash in the Bronx (get the book, read the story) now appears as a wry metaphor for all of the wrong turns of the fallen titans and the horrific, unstoppable crashes of their financial institutions whose wreckage is now strewn from Wall Street to Main Street.
Now, wading into this mess and trying to assure us common citizens that all will be well, the powerful people who were supposed to protect our interests all along — President, Treasury Secretary, Federal Reserve Board Chairman, members of Congress — are trying to put on their own Masters of the Universe armor. The proposed $700Billion +++ bailout of the financial sector —- that number could double or triple, who knows — comes with some fine print and hidden language that most consumers don’t really know about — the proposed legislation would give almost unlimited powers to the Secretary of the Treasury, with no oversight.
Moreover, there’s no guarantee that the solution will be achieved with integrity, since there’s no safeguard in the legislation against the kind of greedy personal money-grabbing that was part of the problem to begin with. It’s hard to break a decades-long tradition of multi-million-dollar compensation packages — not only for CEOs, but for so many involved with these industries — that were the incentives behind the increasingly risky investment strategies that caused the meltdown. When the Masters of the Universe are trading up on their homes in the Hamptons, they’re not really caring about the modest first-time homeowners in Hyattsville just trying to pay their monthly mortgages.
Interestingly enough, a whole lot of smart people on both sides of the aisle — Republicans as well as Democrats — are not buying the bailout. Historically, the conservative philosophy of Republicans is pro-free-market and anti-big-government, so the idea that the government would virtually take over the capitalist system rankles the purists. Liberal philosophy, on the other hand, often espoused by Democrats, favors more government regulation, but the same philosophy is equally suspicious of concentrating too much power in a few hands. Democrats also want the bailout package to help the homeowners who are facing foreclosure because they got into mortgages they could not afford; proponents of the bailout solution believe that the government must first get the financial institutions up and running again before any help can be extended to individual citizens.
For most citizens, I suspect that the financial testimony and economic debates raging inside the Beltway and in New York are somewhat arcane — but real life is clear: economic stress is radiating through the population, from the retirees who are deeply worried about their pensions and the state of Social Security, to workers who are fearful for their jobs, to families who are watching gas prices and food prices fretfully, to college students wondering about the stability of the loans that support their education.
These are the voters who will go to the polls on November 4 looking for the leader who will take our nation to a new, better place. After all of the windy verbiage about experience and silly commentary about moose hunting and blather about inconsequential matters, the voters will be trying to determine one main thing: who will restore economic security and a fundamental sense of prosperity and peace to this nation?
Let’s not to choose plastic action figures or comic book heroes. We need a real leader, not a fictional warfighter sparring with imaginary foes. We don’t need a Master of the Universe; we need a real life leader.