"In 2008, the fate of the world's economy was decided in a matter of weeks."
From the HBO film, "Too Big to Fail"
Friends, enemies; Democrats, Independents, Republicans; libertarians, capitalists, socialists; political activists, apathetic citizens, voters in general: Lend me your eyes and ears long enough for a movie.
There are two kinds of people, from various perspectives, reading this column: 1. People who want to know the truth; and 2. People who would rather not know until it's too late.
If you're one of the latter, that's pathetic.
If you're in the first group: Do you get HBO or have friends who will invite you over to watch the HBO movie, "Too Big to Fail"? It can be seen in those households with Comcast On Demand through June 19? Or will you buy the DVD when it's available? Or, can you at least go to the HBO website and watch excerpts of the film, with commentary by the actors? Of course, you can always read the book by Andrew Ross Sorkin.
Usually the book is better. But you really should see the expressions on the faces of the actors playing government officials and banker CEOs who slowly realize they and the economic world are facing destruction. The acting, by William Hurt as Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, Paul Giamatti as Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, and James Woods as Lehman Brothers chairman Dick Fuld, is superb.
I get HBO as part of my cable package, so one night after the 11 o'clock news, I decided to watch the movie for 10 minutes to see if it was worth inviting Chip over to see the next evening. An hour and a half later I was still sitting in front of the TV laughing out loud at the absurdity of it all, yet in shock. Watched it again with Chip, who was equally appalled.
We all remember the 2008 financial crisis centered around mortgage defaults. We were told that there would be serious consequences if the government didn't act, didn't bail-out, didn't stimulus-spend. Like me, you may have thought politicians and the media were exaggerating — the former probably lying to spend more money or get more power, the latter just using the drama to boost ratings.
In about the middle of the film, you realize: It was the truth. We were on the verge of total collapse. As Tim Geithner says on the phone from the streets of Manhattan on his way to his office at the New York Federal Reserve Bank, "There are people out here going about their business, they have no idea ..." That was me, and probably you.
The scariest part: Like most Americans, I've always assumed that a.) someone, somewhere, if not in the government then in the private sector, knew what he was doing; and b.) there is always something that can be done in a crisis, some solution, some way out. This was illusion, delusion, wrong.
The movie begins after the government has already set up the crisis, so its emphasis is on the Wall Street players more than on Barney Frank. These banking CEOs were, Bernanke explains, running off "greed, pride, ego, ambition." And at one point in the film, Paulson, recently of Goldman Sachs and now President George W. Bush's Secretary of the Treasury, is throwing up in his office bathroom as he realizes there is no way out — and as his wide-eyed young staffers in the next room stare at each other in shock.
One plan was to get South Korea, China or Japan to lend U.S. banks billions to help out. I won't tell you how that all goes down, but here's one image: A group of potential lenders from Asia huddled outside the Fed smoking, because they aren't allowed to smoke inside during negotiations. A horrified American negotiator apologizes to them; their leader politely says he should quit anyhow, obviously thinking that Americans are hopeless.
I listen to talk radio all day but never to Michael Savage in the evening. However, recently I'd fallen asleep after work and woke up to hear Savage talking about "Too Big to Fail," so I listened, incredulously, as he described the film as a liberal plot to make Hank Paulson (described above, throwing up) a hero as government rises to the occasion and saves the day.
His evidence was that Hollywood liberal Ed Asner has a brief role as investor Warren Buffett; supposedly other actors in the film are also liberals. Someone must have said something off-air because Savage did eventually note that James Woods is a well-known Hollywood conservative, but that he'd been cast as the one major loser in the 2008 events as Lehman was forced into bankruptcy. What-what? Liberal Hollywood does a movie making all the public- and private-sector geniuses look like fools, and carefully casts a willing conservative actor as the one victim? I think not.
It's not always partisan, Savage. Sometimes it's too big for partisanship. As Woods the actor says during the online commentary, this goes "down the rabbit hole of insanity."
There was, as stated above, no viable solution; no one in private or public power knew what to do. Paulson, Bernanke and Geithner patched together an incredible short-term pretend-solution, and we now await the movie sequel.
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Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation and a regular contributor to the opinion pages.
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