Gary Harmon Column October 02, 2008

The phone rang at 3 a.m., and no one answered

This might ring a bell.

In what seems like eons ago, someone named Hillary Clinton put out a television ad purporting to establish her credentials for being president based on what she called the “3 a.m. phone call.”

Clinton would be up to answering the wee-hours alarm, she said, especially if the call were “economic.”

Who knew she was actually onto something?

No, not the part about her being up to answering the call. Some things remain beyond the willing suspension of disbelief.

But the notion of economic dislocation, a mere dramatic device in the ad, turns out to have been more real.

Not that Clinton or anyone else was talking seriously about it, but the fact was that politics was imitating art, which was imitating life.

Life, as we’ve learned in the last week, has a way of getting even with those who ignore it.

Turns out the phone has been ringing. And ringing. And ringing.

The phone started ringing on Sept. 11, 2003. The date alone seems to have been chosen to inspire a sense of urgency, a task in which it ultimately failed.

That was the day the Bush administration outlined plans for an agency within the Treasury Department that would supervise Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two government-sponsored mortgage buyers that no longer exist because they no longer could sustain their highly questionable loan practices.

Of course, anyone could confuse the sound of the alarm bell Bush was ringing with that of a telephone, which is what we were talking about. So, it presumably doesn’t count.

Outside investigators had concluded in July that Freddie Mac had manipulated its accounting to mislead investors.

That, too, was an alarm bell. Good thing it wasn’t the phone.

Congress, then controlled by the Republicans, did zilch.

The Democrats came in three years later and did, well, zilch. Of course they had to outdo the Republicans, so they added zippo and nada.

Sure enough, this summer Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac did what those who were watching closely knew they would do, fail miserably. They didn’t just fail. They flailed, foundered and foozled away the economy.

Bank failures started to pile up. Credit dried up. Politicians who previously couldn’t be bothered started to point fingers and, when needed, tear up.

But nobody showed up.

Then, when the ringing phone became incessant, they put it on voice mail.

Since then, we’ve seen the Treasury secretary call for a $700 billion bailout, then be corrected by the president and instructed to call it a rescue. Syntax ... always important to the GOP.

What’s next? Salvage?

The Democrats in the House put together a bill larded up with taxpayer-funded freebies for their friends.

Always looking out for their friends, the Dems.

Never say that one can’t imagine things getting worse.

Barack Obama didn’t show up to craft the rescue-bailout-“Ice cream for everyone!” package he wants to administer.

John McCain suspended his campaign but couldn’t deliver the votes when crunch time came. It all sounds strangely familiar.

Mr. Experience Joe Biden suddenly had nothing to do with anything.

We don’t know if moose-gutter Sarah Palin could hear the phone that far out in the back 40 million.

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