|Tensions over the financial bail-out package are rising in Washington [GALLO/GETTY]
POLITICIAN, n. An eel in the fundamental mud upon which the superstructure of organised society is reared. When he wriggles he mistakes the agitation of his tail for the trembling of the edifice. As compared with the statesman, he suffers the disadvantage of being alive.
Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary
What we are witnessing is the final collapse of the US tradition of bipartisanship in the face of national crisis.
In the first and second world wars, the Cold War with the Soviet Union, and in times of national crisis such as the assassination of John F Kennedy, US political parties have put aside partisan differences to work together for the good of the nation and in support of national goals.
Bipartisanship extended to the formation of the government's executive team in times of crisis - for example, Democrat Franklin Roosevelt chose Republican Henry L Stimson to be his secretary of war during the struggle against Hitler and imperial Japan.
But that tradition suffered a serious blow in the aftermath of the attacks of September 11, 2001.
Democrats rallied together with George Bush, the current president, and followed his lead in passing ill-considered legislation he demanded, such as the USA Patriot Act.
|Is Bush turning against
But almost immediately, Bush turned against bipartisanship and blatantly exploited the attacks as a weapon for political gain.
Bush's political mentor Karl Rove said: "Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 in the attacks and prepared for war.
Liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers."
That charge was, of course, completely false. But the damage was done. Now we are seeing the results of this degradation of political discourse.
The economic crisis is real and pressing. It is not a partisan issue. The Democratic majority in congress is willing to go along with the bail-out on the grounds that it is necessary for the sake of the country's economy.
Naturally, the Democrats want the Republicans to join them and present a united front. But the House Republicans see an opportunity for political gain.
In my view, they are not thinking about the urgency of addressing the economic crisis, or the misery and pain that failure to act will caue to millions of Americans.
Instead, they sense a clever way of hurting the Democrats. And, again in my view, they are willing to let the economy fall into a shambles if it will benefit their narrow partisan interests.
Fears of disaster
|Bernanke and others are warning of
disaster if action is not taken [AFP]
The house Republicans know the $700bn bailout is unpopular: Letters and emails to Capitol Hill are running about nine to one against the proposal.
They also know its necessary.
Everyone from Ben Bernanke, non-partisan chairman of the federal reserve, to Henry Paulson, the Republican treasury secretary, and Robert Rubin, the Democratic former treasury secretary, agree that if a substantial package is not passed - and quickly - an economic disaster will ensue.
It is not that the house Republicans do not want that package to pass - they just do not want to vote for it.
Even though it is Bush's package, they want to shift responsibility to the Democrats.
John Boehner, the house Republican leader, said on Friday that because Democrats have majorities in the house and senate they could pass the bill anytime.
But then Republicans would campaign against them - saying Democrats had allowed fat-cat Wall Street executives to scoop up billions of the taxpayers' hard earned dollars.
Alternatively, if the Democrats decline to bring the package to a vote, the markets fall, credit seizes up, and all the dire warnings about the economy come true, the Republicans can blame the wreckage on the Democratic majority in congress.
You are reading this and saying: "My goodness, how cynical and bloodyminded this horrible person Reynolds is."
But remember my prediction: If the package passes, Republicans will use it as a weapon against the Democrats. If it does not, Republicans will blame the Demorcats for the collapse.
The irony of ironies is that it is precisely these house Repuiblican hardliners who were and remain the most vocal and strident proponents of deregulation of capital markets and eliminating restrictions on the financial industry.
That's largely, in my view, how we got into this awful mess. And it is the ultimate triumph of cynical politics over the national interest.