Where are Red Adair and Teddy Roosevelt when we need them?
Both men were heroic, larger-than-life figures who directly faced major problems that others shied away from.
While others dithered, Red went right up to burning oil wells and put out the fires.
As president, Teddy created big government to counteract the negative effects of big business, such as long work days for both parents, with the younger kids left at home and sometimes drugged so they mainly slept and couldn't get into trouble or danger.
The older kids, of course, worked in the factories too. Family life was being destroyed. Teddy didn't just bemoan this fact. He took action.
Today, however, we have let slide regulations that Teddy instituted and that his cousin Franklin D. later expanded. This deregulation has led to numerous business failures, including a nearly crashed economy, deadly mine and oil rig disasters, and major pollution of the Gulf of Mexico.
According to economics writer James Surowiecki, these failures "were the all too predictable result of the deregulationary fervor that has gripped Washington in recent years, pushing the message that most regulation is unnecessary at best and downright harmful at worst."
What regulation we had in place was weakened by budget cuts and by governmental agencies headed by political appointees rather than civil servants. Remember good old "heck of a job Brownie?" Also, wages for regulators have been relatively low, with a corresponding low status of regulators and regulation. Surowiecki points to Singapore, which has competitive salaries and one of the world's least corrupt and most efficient regulatory bureaucracies.
He also points to the FDA. as one of our few effective regulatory agencies. Largely because of this effective regulation, the pharmaceutical industry has thrived.
Surowiecki further reminds us that "regulation isn't an obstacle to thriving free markets; it's a vital part of them."
If the BP mess hasn't taught us this, nothing will.
Yet there are still "drill baby drill" folks urging more new wells, even as the oil continues to pour into the Gulf and wash up on our shores.
As of this writing, the oil cleanup has yet to accomplish the first stage of EMT: stop the bleeding.
So who to listen to in this era of little or no regulation? Who is concerned about and speaking for us average folks on Main Street?
One person is Elizabeth Warren, chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel for the Troubled Assets Relief Program.
She has proposed a Consumer Financial Protection Agency, to re-establish necessary regulations and to ensure that any further financial assistance goes to average persons and not to Wall Street bankers.
Check her out on Google, particularly the two short videos of her appearances on Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show," April 15, 2009, and Jan. 26, 2010.
On the latter show, urging viewers to contact their representatives to see that banking regulations get restored, she said:
"This is really the moment. We are going to write what the American economy looks like for 50 years forward. And right now, the Wall Street CEOs have any real change bottled up in the Senate. If you have never written a senator before, now is the time. This is America's middle class. We've hacked at it and chipped at it and pulled on it for 30 years now, and now there's no more to do. Either we fix this problem going forward, or the game really is over."
To which Stewart responded, "When you say it like that, and you look at me like that I know your husband is back stage I still want to make out with you."
She gave him a good-natured dismissive "aw go on" laugh as the show concluded.
Of course Elizabeth Warren is no Red Adair or Teddy Roosevelt. She's not going to put on a deep sea diving suit and go plug up the oil leak. She's not going to become president (I don't think) and see that needed regulations are reinstated on Wall Street and with utilities and other big businesses.
But she is a business and government watchdog and consumer advocate who cannot be bought, a real straight shooter. What if the tea party folks heard her message and directed their energy toward re-regulation and saving the middle class?
That would be a less partisan and divisive, more inclusive and constructive approach to solving our nation's problems.
(James Lein is a community columnist for The Minot Daily News)