‘They didn’t understand it’

‘THEY DIDN’T UNDERSTAND IT’…. [Note: I’m re-publishing a clearer, more coherent version of this post after a few clarifications and unnecessary corrections appeared in the original.]

I have some fairly serious concerns about congressional Republicans. In fact, my list of concerns is pretty long, and keeps growing. GOP lawmakers, with frightening frequency, seem to struggle with honesty, integrity, seriousness of purpose, decency, intellectual curiosity, etc.

But perhaps nothing is as disconcerting as the fact that congressional Republicans usually appear to have no idea what they’re talking about. On nearly every major policy matter, GOP officials — the ones elected to help shape federal policy — seem to have no working knowledge of any issue.

For example, Vanity Fair contributing editor and best-selling author Michael Lewis recently reflected on his experience talking to a House Republican book group about his work documenting the near-collapse of the financial markets.

“I was supposed to be there for an hour,” says Lewis in the clip above, referring to his visit with the Hill staffers. “I was there for almost three. And nobody left. And their questions were increasingly: ‘Oh my God, Goldman Sachs did what? A.I.G. did what?’ They didn’t understand it … The minute they started to understand, they were outraged.”

Lewis wasn’t just talking to Hill staffers. On the clip, he notes that he, much to his surprise, ended up speaking to House Republican lawmakers and their aides.

Now, it may seem understandable that these Republicans were ignorant about what transpired when the economy collapsed. This is, after all, a complicated matter, involving complex financial mechanisms that most Americans never have to deal with.

But I’m not especially inclined to cut these lawmakers slack. Michael Lewis’ talk with the GOP’s book group was in December — 16 months after the crash that pushed the global economy to the brink of collapse.

Indeed, the timing is worth appreciating for context. Lewis talked to these House Republicans — the ones who “didn’t understand” the scope of the issue — about the crisis on Dec. 3. Nine days later, the House approved a bill reforming Wall Street, and every single Republican in the chamber opposed the legislation.

When RNC Chairman Michael Steele conceded in January that he isn’t sure whether Republicans are ready to lead, he was on to something.