A few weeks ago, I wrote an article for the San Francisco Chronicle about the rise of czarism in American politics, and today we get our first taste of what that actually means on policy.
Notice this snippet from the Washington Post about the latest bank bailout scheme, priced at roughly $1.5 trillion:
In announcing the plan, Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner will not ask Congress for more funds than the roughly $350 billion that remain in the Treasury Department's original rescue package for the financial system, though congressional sources said such a request could come later if the new programs are unsuccessful. The rest of the money would come from other government agencies, such as the Federal Reserve.
How can this be a $1.5 trillion plan, that doesn't ask Congress for any more money? Because the Treasury Secretary is effectively circumventing the legislative branch - ie. popular democratic channels - and relying on autocratic means of handing over more cash to Wall Street, most prominently, the Federal Reserve.
The reason Geithner has chosen this path is because he knows that Congress would likely reflect the will of a very angry public and either reject or severely reform his bailout plan. So rather than allow public input into the plan via Congress, he's just going around democracy entirely. Indeed, out of the $9.7 trillion that Bloomberg News estimates is being spent by our government on this economic crisis, just $1.55 trillion (or 15%) will have been explicitly approved by the Congress (the $750 billion TARP and the upcoming $800 billion stimulus). And, of course, of that $9.7 trillion, just 4.6% is being devoted to spending on regular people (as opposed to banks).
I'm sure the official explanation for this behavior is the same tired version of the "emergency requires speed" rationale that has trampled democracy throughout the ages. But that's a cover for the real motivation: to avoid being stopped by the public.
This is precisely the kind of czarism that's on the rise in America as we become a kind of authoritarian capitalism. The only question is whether Congress will sit back and take it, or reassert its constitutional role.