US politicians' ineptitude exposed by bail-out failure

As the bail-out bill crashes and burns, Bush, Pelosi and McCain are the big losers politically.

It's almost impossible to believe that while Washington has over the last week resembled a group of large and suited Chicken Littles desperate to avoid the economic sky falling in, it may well be about to allow just that. As the Dow plunged, the political finger-pointing began in earnest, with a particularly stinging rebuke from the Democrats towards the 12 Republican House members who, because their feelings were supposedly hurt, didn't deliver their votes.

What hurt their feelings? Apparently it was a partisan speech from Democrat House Leader Nancy Pelosi before the vote. Now the often-sarcastic Chairman of the Financial Service Panel, Barney Frank (D-MA), is demanding to know the names of the cry-babies who lashed out and hurt the country.

The failure of the vote will be read as a failure of Leadership - particularly from the White House. This morning President George Bush reiterated his call for Republicans to push through the bail-out bill. So much for his sway. One lame duck to waddle behind the Chicken Littles.

What is extraordinary here is that a bill of such mammoth importance was put to the House before the leaders on Capitol Hill were sure they had the numbers locked down. Pelosi must take the flak for that. It's all very well after the fact blaming the other guys - even if it was a Republican Bill - but give me a break.  How do you get to run the House without being able to count?  It's the a-b-c of political leadership.

The next lame duck is beginning to look a lot like John McCain. He inserted himself into this economic minefield trusting his maverick tendencies...and they have failed him. Maybe he should have kept his (not really) suspended campaign on course. Higher up the food chain of McCain's problems is the fact that his dramatic move keeps his political Achilles heel - the economy - front and centre of this campaign. Maybe he's wishing that he had stood back like Obama and "monitored" the situation. In the parlance of the day, Obama was of course hedging his bets. However, only hours before the debate that kicked the bill for touch, McCain was out on the hustings mocking Obama for his "monitoring" stance. Hmmm, wonder what McCain's thinking now?

Effectively, he's drawn attention to the other time Obama showed the right judgement - by voting against the war in Iraq.

The voting behaviour behind this bill is laden with irony. The Republican and Democrat sides had done a deal to deliver half the votes required to shunt the bill through. The Democrats claim to have provided more than their share for a bill they openly despised.

On the GOP side it was a battle of ideology. The Republicans who rejected it were holding to their free market principles, preferring economic pain to preserve the freedoms of the market. Yet it was the democrats, who wanted more government intervention in the market, who fronted with the agreed votes.

Let's face it, neither side actually wanted to be seen as being responsible for the legislation's successful passage. The Democrats would then be seen as those who propped up the very people they are busy using as campaign fodder. The Republicans would of course be selling out on their free-market ideologies. What was also coming in to play was an overwhelming outcry from voters, who didn't want their tax dollars saving those who were amongst the most highly paid in the country, and seen as the greedy authors of their own destiny.

It is an almost unprecedented headache in an election campaign. There's lots of talk about getting the negotiations back on track, or "taking another bite of the apple" as Speaker Pelosi put it. That will be a high-stakes operation if ever there was one.  Hopefully McCain will stay the heck out of it next time.

The politicians have been so busy holding their collective noses to avoid being pinpointed as supporting the bail out of Wall St, that they have denied themselves the oxygen to see that all their petty, partisan antics have achieved is even more public disdain for those who hold power - political or economic.