By Brent Budowsky - 03/16/09 04:12 PM EDT
The movie “Top Gun,” with Tom Cruise playing Maverick, was one of the greatest ever made, though not for reasons people think.
“Top Gun” was a movie about fear. About courage. About courage overcoming fear. And above all, about the courage to take risks for a higher cause.
When pundits say we need less risk, they could not be more wrong. There is a difference between taking the risk to finance the next Apple Computer and taking the risks of day-trading speculative bubbles with borrowed money.
Recently I was looking at a military bomber jacket on eBay. The jacket could be bought for almost nothing. I looked at the site of the gentleman selling it. Everything was in the same size, for the same branch of the service. The seller had just returned from Iraq.
We exchanged e-mails. This person had just come back; was jobless; his bank was charging him high interest for limited credit. He had little money and was worried about being homeless. He told me that he would throw in his medals for anyone who bought the jacket. I told him: Never, ever sell your medals. I wanted to tell his story. He made me swear never to tell his name.
This guy is a hero. We send him to Iraq, and while we pass our tax cuts, we don’t give him body armor. When he comes home, he gets screwed by his bank, can’t get hired for a job, and while he nurses wounds received in our service, he offers to sell his medals to pay for his dinner.
Meanwhile: We give huge taxpayer bailouts to banks. We give huge taxpayer bailouts to AIG, which passes much of that money back to banks (many of them foreign), while giving million-dollar bonuses to people who lost $60 billion in one quarter. Then, benefiting from low interest and cheap money from taxpayers, banks raise credit card rates for good customers and refuse to lend to good businesses.
We live at the end of our Gilded Age, when the Bonfires of the Vanities are being doused, when the Masters of the Universe are begging for bailouts. If you take risks for our country, you get slapped down. If you take risks for your greed, you get bailed out.
We are reduced to the place where The Washington Post cancels its Business section during a financial crisis. When we can’t find the best people to fill jobs at the Treasury. When a hero who risked his life considers selling his medals for his dinner while CNBC asks Mr. Stanford, who will soon have his rendezvous with the law, How does it feel to be a billionaire? (Answer: It feels great!)
As I’ve written in recent columns, I am bullish on America. The next great jobs wave is clearly in view. Recovery will come, and sooner than people think. Don’t ever bet against America.
Like Maverick, who conquered his demons and was carried off by his brothers in triumph, my young friend will keep his medals and triumph in a career that will no doubt be brilliant. Like all of those who have built this country, the content of his character will triumph over the Gilded Age of our times.
Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. He can be read on The Hill’s Pundits Blog and reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.