Donaldson on the Moral Consequences of Bailout

The following is a commentary by ABC News' Sam Donaldson. Click here to view a video version of his latest essay.

Someone asked me Wednesday why we shouldn't just let the people who've made bad economic decisions, and certainly the people who encouraged them to make those bad decisions, go broke.

"They did it to themselves. They deserve the consequences, and the rest of us shouldn't have to pay to bail them out," was the outraged cry.

Sam Donaldson on whats fair about paying for other peoples mistakes. Play

I was a bit surprised by this, not because we don't all share that sentiment -- What's fair about paying for someone else's mistake? -- but because I thought that by this time most people had gotten on to the fact that we are all in this together and throwing people overboard, no matter how much they might deserve it, will only make matters worse for the rest of us, not better.

It reminds me of the story of the old New Mexico rancher who back in 1890 ordered a newfangled contraption from a Sears Roebuck catalog called an outhouse and when it arrived, he set it up on the edge of the ravine behind the corral.

People came from miles around to gawk at this wonderful new gadget.

Until one morning it was discovered that overnight someone had pushed that outhouse into the ravine and by the time it hit the bottom it had been reduced to a pile of splinter wood.

The rancher, a widower, called his four sons together and said, "Boys, we're the only ones here. Which one of you pushed that outhouse into the ravine?"

No one spoke up.

"Listen," said the rancher, "There was once an old man named Washington who came out one morning to find his favorite cherry tree chopped down and when he asked who did it, his little boy George spoke right up and said, 'Daddy, I cannot tell a lie. I did it with my little hatchet.' And old man Washington patted George on the head and said, 'Good boy for telling the truth, here's a silver dollar, go throw it across the river or something.'"

"Now," said the rancher, "I'll ask again. Who pushed the outhouse into the ravine?" And his No. 2 son, a strapping 19-year-old, spoke up and said, "Well, Daddy, I did it. I got home late from town, a little liquored up. I meant no harm. I was just having a little fun."

The rancher grabbed that boy and started stomping on him, and his son started screaming? "Daddy, you're killing me, and I told the truth just like little George. What's the difference?"

"Son," said the rancher, "One big difference. Old man Washington not sitting in the cherry tree at the time."

Well, we are all sitting here together and we'll all make it back to prosperity together, or not at all.

Sam Donaldson, a 41-year ABC News veteran, served two appointments as chief White House correspondent for ABC News, from 1977-1989 and from January 1998 to August 1999, covering Presidents Carter, Reagan and Clinton. Donaldson also co-anchored, with Diane Sawyer, "PrimeTime Live," from August 1989 until it merged with "20/20" in 1999. He co-anchored the ABC News Sunday morning broadcast, "This Week With Sam Donaldson & Cokie Roberts," from December 1996 to September 2002. Currently, Donaldson appears on ABC News Now, the ABC News digital network, in a daily show called "Politics Live."