Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Be the populist anger you want to see

Apparently it is not enough that the credit card companies have spent $15.5 million on lobbying fees in the first quarter of 2009 alone (this according to CREW, the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington), while employees of credit card companies spent an additional $14.5 million last year, and credit PACs spent $8.6 million more. It’s not enough that when the President even considered making a change to the credit laws, 14 top-ranking credit card company officials got to meet with Obama to plead their case in person; conveniently, none of the 14 was a registered lobbyist, which made them exempt from laws banning lobbyists from influencing officials with responsibility for distribution of stimulus/recovery funds. Apparently despite all that the credit card companies are voiceless yet, and still need Michael Hiltzik of the LA Times to champion their cause. (link added by me for clarity)

Of all the truly revolting political developments of the financial crisis age — and there have been a lot of them — probably nothing is more disgusting than the weirdly intense media backlash against “populist anger,” anger that is inevitably described by media sages like Hiltzik as irrational, unfounded, and pointedly unhelpful. The public is depicted as a great dumb beast lashing out wildly at shadows and hallucinations, with the poor diligent hardworking members of the financial class (slaving away to pump much-needed capital into the bloodstream of international commerce) suffering the collateral damage.
One thing I've been trying to figure out is the degree to which persistent public anger at the mismanaged economy will be an aid or a hindrance to Democrats in 2010. I think that Obama's basic continuance of the Bush policy of giving away all of our money to the bankers bodes ill. It muddles the political message in such a way that it makes even the most insane ramblings of his opponents seem at least just as reasonable as he.

For instance, it should be quite simple to rebuff the recent Teabagging phenomenon, not only because it was a load of corporate lobbyist produced astroturf, but also because it just doesn't make sense for "the people" to get up in arms against a tax policy and stimulus package that clearly favors the interests of "the people" over those of the money power. But once Obama aligns himself with continued giveaways to Wall Street, it becomes far more difficult to keep people convinced he's on their side. It becomes easier for your opponents to purposely conflate "bailouts" which are government giveaways to wealthy criminals with "stimulus" which is government investment in services and infrastructure from which we all benefit.

People have a right to be angry. And angry people express their anger in sometimes incoherent ways. It should fall upon our political leadership to respect that anger as legitimate and channel it toward meaningful resolution. Instead, we have a political leadership and media establishment that serves an elite criminal class on the one hand and showers the rest of us with disdainful lectures on the unseemliness and incivility of populism on the other.
Someone is going to be blamed, and the Republicans have figured out who: Clinton and Obama. But the Democrats are staying above the battle and refuse to “play the blame game”. This responsible, patrician, professional approach hasn’t worked for the Democrats for thirty or forty years, not even during normal times, and it’s certainly not going to work now. But the Democrats don’t realize this, and they’re so committed to their cool, professionalism that are unlikely to be able to deal with the politics of the impending disaster at all.
This is precisely why I'm not so keen as the professional political observers are to write off the GOP at this point. It seems to me that while the right is sticking to its ideological guns and doubling down on the crazy, the left (or what passes for the left) is engaging in a hubristic elitist rhetoric of condescension which combines the tone of upper-class intellectual paranoia with a shockingly unempathetic sectional bias. This looks like a long-term losing strategy to me.

No one is taking this seriously yet (and for good reason... at least until the polling trends start to change) but I really do see a populist backlash coming somewhere in the next few electoral cycles. I still think the Democrats have the option of swimming with rather than being wiped out by the tide, but as long as they continue to cater to the bankers and rain insults on the masses they're swimming in the wrong direction.

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