The real reason Americans hate TARP

The bailout became law because the legislative branch was stampeded with the threats of certain doom. It vested unprecedented economic authority in a single unelected official, the secretary of the Treasury. And it used public funds to insulate well-connected private actors from the consequences of their recklessness. Its creation short-circuited republican self-government, and its execution created moral hazard on an epic scale. It may have been an economic necessity, but it felt like a travesty nonetheless.

This is why it should be possible to both sympathize with the politicians who voted for the bailout and welcome their rebuke at the ballot box. Faced with extraordinary circumstances — wars, natural disasters, economic crises — political leaders will always incline toward a blunt utilitarianism, in which the need for stability trumps more high-minded ideals. But after a crisis has passed, it’s immensely important that the ideals reassert themselves, so that the moral compromises made amid extraordinary times aren’t repeated in ordinary ones as well.