"In 2008, the fate of the
world's economy was decided in a matter of weeks."
the HBO film, "Too Big to Fail"
Friends, enemies, Democrats,
Independents, Republicans, libertarians, capitalists,
socialists, political activists, apathetic citizens, voters
in general: Lend me your eyes and ears long enough for a
There are two kinds of people, from
various perspectives, reading this column: 1. People who
want to know the truth; and 2. People who would rather not
know until it's too late.
If you're one of the latter, that's
If you're in the first group: Do you get
HBO or have friends who will invite you over to watch the
HBO movie "Too Big to Fail"? It can be seen in those
households with Comcast On Demand through June 19? Or will
you buy the DVD when it's available? Or, can you at least go
HBO website and watch excerpts of the film, with
commentary by the actors? Of course, you can always read the
book by Andrew Ross Sorkin.
Usually the book is better. But you
really should see the expressions on the faces of
the actors playing government officials and banker CEOs
who slowly realize they and the economic world are facing
destruction. The acting, by William Hurt as Treasury
Secretary Hank Paulson, Paul Giamatti as Federal Reserve
Chairman Ben Bernanke, and James Woods as Lehman Brothers
chairman Dick Fuld, is superb.
I get HBO as part of my cable package, so
one night after the 11 o'clock news, I decided to watch the
movie for 10 minutes to see if it was worth inviting Chip
over to see the next evening. An hour and a half later I was
still sitting in front of the TV laughing out loud at the
absurdity of it all, yet in shock. Watched it again with
Chip, who was equally appalled.
We all remember the 2008 financial crisis
centered around mortgage defaults. We were told that there
would be serious consequences if the government didn't act,
didn't bail-out, didn't stimulus-spend. Like me, you may
have thought politicians and the media were exaggerating —
the former probably lying to spend more money or get more
power, the latter just using the drama to boost ratings.
Big to Fail, a film on HBO based on a book by Andrew
Ross Sorkin, features Topher Grace as Jim Wilkerson,
left, and William Hurt as Henry Paulson..
In about the middle of the film, you
realize: It was the truth. We were on the verge of total
collapse. As Tim Geithner says on the phone from the streets
of Manhattan on his way to his office at the New York
Federal Reserve Bank, "There are people out here going about
their business, they have no idea ..." That was me, and
The scariest part: Like most Americans,
I've always assumed that a.) someone, somewhere, if not in
the government then in the private sector, knew what he was
doing; and b.) there is always something that can be done in
a crisis, some solution, some way out. This was illusion,
The movie begins after the government has
already set up the crisis, so its emphasis is on the Wall
Street players more than on Barney Frank. These banking CEOs
were, Bernanke explains, running off "greed, pride, ego,
ambition." And at one point in the film, Paulson, recently
of Goldman Sachs and now President George W. Bush's
secretary of the Treasury, is throwing up in his office
bathroom as he realizes there is no way out — and as his
wide-eyed young staffers in the next room stare at each
other in shock.
One plan was to get South Korea, China or
Japan to lend U.S. banks billions to help out. I won't tell
you how that all goes down, but here's one image: A group of
potential lenders from Asia huddled outside the Fed smoking,
because they aren't allowed to smoke inside during
negotiations. A horrified American negotiator apologizes to
them; their leader politely says he should quit anyhow,
obviously thinking that Americans are hopeless.
I listen to talk radio all day but never
to Michael Savage in the evening. However, recently I'd
fallen asleep after work and woke up to hear Savage talking
about "Too Big to Fail," so I listened, incredulously, as he
described the film as a liberal plot to make Hank Paulson
(described above, throwing up) a hero as government rises to
the occasion and saves the day.
His evidence was that Hollywood liberal
Ed Asner has a brief role as investor Warren Buffet;
supposedly other actors in the film are also liberals.
Someone must have said something off-air because Savage did
eventually note that James Woods is a well-known Hollywood
conservative, but that he'd been cast as the one major loser
in the 2008 events as Lehman was forced into bankruptcy.
What-what? Liberal Hollywood does a movie making all the
public- and private-sector geniuses look like fools, and
carefully casts a willing conservative actor as the one
victim? I think not.
It's not always partisan, Savage.
Sometimes it's too big for partisanship. As Woods the actor
says during the online commentary, this goes "down the
rabbit hole of insanity."
There was, as stated above, no viable
solution; no one in private or public power knew what to do.
Paulson, Bernanke and Geithner patched together an
incredible short-term pretend-solution, and we now await the
Barbara Anderson, a Marblehead resident
and executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation, is a
regular contributor to the opinion pages. To read original
documents used in researching this column, go to