S. and I were in the car yesterday, headed to the airport. For us, the Atlanta airport is a forty five minute ride to the south side of town - when traffic is good. It's the longest time we spend together in the car outside of long trips. So the conversations are a round robin, a mix of "don't forget" instructions, recent events in the lives of our friends, and current events.
Somehow, there was a segue from The Real Housewives of Atlanta (I know, I know, I've been talking about this all week) to the testimony the executives from the Big Three automakers gave to Congress the last couple of days.
"So what do you think about this bailout?" I asked. "Every place I've been this morning, all the people are saying the same thing - its not going to happen."
"They've got to do it." S. said, her voice flat as she watched the 75 South traffic begin to merge with the 85 South traffic.
"What I can't figure out," I said, "is what a Chapter 11 bankrupcty filing is supposed to fix if they end up with the same people running the company. The private jet thing is just noise. They're already paying for the jets anyway. Not using six thousand dollars worth of jet fuel this week isn't going to save any of these companies from going under."
"They've got to do it," S. repeated, "because a Chapter 11 will wipe out all the employee stock those people have in their retirement accounts."
And just like that, I realized why Congress doesn't get it. Why Henry Paulson, the great protector of almost anybody with a pulse on Wall Street, doesn't get it. And why, as heartfelt as their pleas for help were, the Big Three CEO's just don't get it - because all of them have reduced all of us from a mass of living humanity to a column of impersonal numbers.
Back when you used to eat nicer meals in nicer restaurants, you used to tip fifteen to twenty percent of the bill, routinely, because the meal didn't serve itself, the water didn't appear out of thin air, and you had no idea what the cook even looked like when you left. The wait staff brought your order to the kitchen and delivered your food to the table, among other things. The tip was a small cost of being in such a nice place to begin with, but a big part of the wait staff's income.
Let the wait staff of this same restaurant walk out of the door en masse and you will see the owner of the business pull his hair out until he can hire a new staff, because he can't deliver all that food by himself.
I don't know what Paulson thinks Wall Street really is. They don't make anything in those glass towers in downtown Manhattan but big phone bills. The auto industry not only employs over 10 million people - its products literally take America back and forth to work, delivering the productivity industries around the country need so the thirty year old guys Paulson is so fond of, who have never had a job that didn't involve a financial calculator and a computer screen, can bet a healthy slice of this year's Gross National Product against a hunch that the Thai baht will fall in value against the U.S. dollar.
And for all that bringing to and fro every day of laborers and teachers and farmers and painters and machinists and yes, waiters and waitresses, all across the country, in order to let his guys keep playing with our real money like it came from Parker Brothers, these guys can't throw another 25 billion on the table, after getting a bill for 350 billion? It is the equivalent of a tip after a big meal - in this case, a big meal that very, very few members of the American public got to taste.
Now I'm sure, if you were able to see a copy of Paulson's American Express bill, you could see that this is a man who understands the concept of tipping. Your people in Congress might not be as familiar with this custom, since they are just now learning how to pay for their own dinners.
So for all the Christian Righters, right wingers, left wingers who skipped history class, and Fair Taxers whose blinders keep them from seeing anything else but that damn flat tax - this is how you get to the communism you claim you hate so much, when there are too many people who are broke, hungry and homeless.
Because if you ever go to a high end restaurant, Mr. and Ms. Congresspeople, and don't leave a tip, you really don't need to go back there.
I would hate to think what might show up in your food.