Michael Lewis, the celebrated author of "The Big Short," claims that about 40 or 50 House Republicans skipped a December hearing by Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke to spend three hours with him talking about the financial crisis. And the lawmakers, who are members of the House Republican book club, were stunningly uninformed about major elements of the crisis, says Lewis, during a recent conversation with Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter:This book club event occurred in December 2009, close to a year and half since Bear Stearns and Lehman blew up.
The only part of this story I find a bit credulous is the use of the word "shockingly". Why would anyone be shocked that the Republican caucus in the house is uninformed? What exactly do they appear informed about? Did the health care debate provide any evidence that the House GOP had any policy depth?. Not that I saw. The ease by which the President dispatched them in that Caucas Q&A should have dispelled any doubts about their ignorance.
I do have some sympathy for this argument though:
At first, several dozen of the lawmakers told Lewis that they were going to leave early to attend the Bernanke hearing but they stayed because "they said, 'We never learn anything from him [Bernanke], he never explains anything to us'," according to Lewis.
A prerequisite for the job of Fed Chairman is the ability to speak in an arcane language so opaque that no one outside the world of economics and finance could possibly figure out what he was saying with any precision. The real joke is that Bernanke makes a conscious effort to be more clear than Greenspan, the Jedi Master of Federal Reserve doublespeak. Of course, even if he used plain English devoid of financial economic jargon, none of the GOP members would understand him anyway. They know so little policy other than "Capitalism good, Socialism bad" that even rudimentary discussions about these topics goes over their heads.
One of the underlying issues here is that the Congressional Republicans outsource policy expertise to the relevant lobbying groups they ally with. So in this case, banking and finance lobbyists are their main sources of information. No doubt as soon as they got back to their offices and placed a call to those lobbyists to demand answers, they were offered a tidal wave of outright lies and nonsense that probably boiled down to "liberals, socialism, liberal media, Hitler, Stalin, blah, blah, blah.". No doubt to the relief of those representatives so outraged by the book club meeting.
The other issue is that many of them are outright ideologues who could care less about the nuances of financial regulation since they have completely bought into a world view that this crisis was caused by government regulations like the Community Reinvestment Act or New Deal era agencies like the FDIC. I guarantee you that last part is widely believed in conservative business circles. You really cannot make stuff like this up.
But this story tells you all you need to know about Tea baggers and the current state of the GOP. They not only are ignorant of these issues, they are proud of it. Anyone who knows anything has to hide it from his or her constituents and colleagues. Only effete liberal commies care about this hippie stuff. I have no doubt that a book club meeting about Hitlers hatred of Socialists and the Nazi regimes campaign to wipe them out would be equally shocking to them.
And then they would quickly tune into the Beck program to be brought back into the fold with another Beckian flowchart detailing the relationship between Saul Alinsky and Hitler and how Woodrow Wilson caused World War II.