Banking bailout tests faith in Obama, system
By Allen G. Breed
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — From Charlotte to Chicago, from Miami to the mountains around Denver, Americans know these desperate times call for desperate measures. But there’s something about hearing the word "trillion" bandied about so easily in Washington these days, and the persistent pleas from the Obama administration for patience and trust, that gives people pause.
"It is difficult when you start talking about trillions — and even billions," says Lawrence H. White, who teaches economics at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. "Well, even professors are having a hard time getting their heads around what’s going on."
With numbers so incomprehensibly huge, White says many Americans are "resorting to their kind of default judgment about who are the good guys and who are the bad guys." People like Neython Murillo, an associate buyer for Macy’s, are having a hard time telling the difference.
Murillo, grabbing a cafe con leche at a Cuban restaurant in downtown Miami during his break, is one of hundreds of Macy’s employees who will be laid off at the end of April. He’s angry that hundreds of billions in taxpayer dollars have gone to companies like AIG and not to working folks like him, and he resents being told to just have a little faith in Obama.
"I think there’s far too much faith in him," says Murillo. "He’s just one man."
The thing about faith is that it often requires someone to believe in things they can’t see or explain. But when you see everything around you falling apart, and the explanations why seem as varied as the commentators giving them, it can be difficult to have heart.
"I’ve yet to hear anybody explain it in terms a lay person can understand," says Tina Sirico, 66, a customer service training manager in Milford, Conn.
Attorney John Mitchell has mastered the intricacies of maritime law, but he doesn’t comprehend the bailout plan.
"Does anyone?" the Miami resident says. "Has anyone even read it?"
White says the media could help by trying to put the bailout in terms of what it would cost per capita or per household. Mark Williams, a 47-year-old iron worker, has heard a figure — $150,000 for every American household — and he still can’t come to grips with it.
"So when I see all these companies getting bailouts because they failed, it makes me angry," says Williams, who once worked long days on major projects like Lincoln Center in Manhattan but is now rehabbing a small bank in Milford. He lives in a New York suburb but says, "I have to drive all the way to Connecticut to make a living because there’s no work in New York City."
Scott Dana, 35, a mortgage originator in Milford, says part of the perception problem is that the term "bailout" has been overused. He says the plan to take over sour mortgages should lower interest rates on mortgages, and car and student loans, because it will free up liquidity for the banks.
That’s stimulus, he says: "Everything needed to jump start the economy."
Barbara Wright-Pryor concedes she still doesn’t fully grasp the latest plan to buy up bad loans and toxic mortgage-backed securities after watching her fellow Chicagoan’s nationally televised news conference on Tuesday. But she liked Obama’s metaphor about the nation being more like an ocean liner than a speed boat, and the 74-year-old retired musician and public school teacher says she came away with a sense that she chose the right man in November.
"Overall, I give him an A grade," she says. "I think he explains things as well as one can explain without delivering a treatise. On the whole, his explanations are sufficient to me."