Bob Franken

The Watergate and the Economy. Scandals Then and Now

Bummer. There was a distress sale of the Watergate Hotel in Washington, and nobody bid on it.

Yes that Watergate, the one that gained infamy and lent its name to the scandal leading to President Nixon’s resignation — way back in the early ’70s, when we used the word “bummer.”

After so many years as a luxury address, it closed in recent times and has fallen into disrepair. So there it was on the auction block, offered by the company stuck with a $40 million note. Minimum bid: $25 million.

One would think that a cut-rate price tag would have attracted history-minded bargain hunters. But now it’s back to the drawing board. They could let Filene’s get whatever it could, but that company is struggling with bankruptcy. Surely there’s a hedge fund out there, ready to make a killing, or even someone offering a subprime mortgage.

Oh, that’s right: Subprime isn’t in vogue at the moment. Apparently no lending is. Despite the latest quarterly reports showing our banks rolling in cash once again, they are very reluctant to share it with the rest of us — you know, the chumps who provided the government gazillions that saved them from drowning.

It’s easy to conclude they’re worried about not having enough funds to return to their obscene compensation practices. Problem is that until they start sharing a teeny bit of the wealth again, the rest of us will still struggle to make ends meet.

Once again, everyone: Lending fuels recovery. A lack thereof means the stall continues. At the moment, the experts are predicting double-digit unemployment that will feed our malaise for a long time.

“Double-digit unemployment”: It’s one of those cold terms that academics use. It really means “fear,” the kind that grips more than one in 10 of us, worried about financial disaster if the desperate search for work doesn’t turn up anything.

To make sure the politicians pay attention, it’s worth noting that most of the scenarios show those high levels of joblessness still with us till 2011! Need anyone be reminded that the midterm elections come before that? By then, people might take the Democrats’ slogan of “Change You Can Believe In” to heart. They might be disgusted enough to make the “change” back to Republicans.

Maybe the smart thing for the GOP is to do and say nothing. In fact, given how ridiculous Republicans have been looking and sounding these days, that’s definitely their best strategy. Let the Democratic White House and Congress thrash around to no avail. Sooner or later, the voters will forget who got us into this mess and focus on who can’t get us out.

It could very easily happen if those in power don’t make sure the financial institutions share their wealth. That would be a real scandal. Bummer.

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