Jefferson Morley at Salon:
In his new book, “Pity the Billionaire,” Tom Frank turns his mordant eye on the unlikeliest political development of the Obama presidency: how the crash of 2008 served to strengthen the political right. The deregulation of Wall Street, championed for 30 years by right-wing leaders, had led to an economic catastrophe so frightening that the country elected a liberal Democrat to the presidency. Yet two years later, the most conservative faction of the Republican Party, the Tea Party, had taken effective control of the House of Representatives, the regulation of Wall Street had stalled, and the champions of economic deregulation in Washington had emerged stronger than ever.
Frank, author of the bestselling book “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” provides a pithy and nuanced explanation of what he calls the “hard-times swindle.” He spoke with Salon from his father’s home in Kansas City, Mo.
As you can see, the whole article goes off track early with “the country elected a liberal Democrat to the presidency.” You might expect that whatever follows that is probably not gonna be accurate.
Early in the book, you describe the moment in the spring of 2009 when free-market economics had been so thoroughly discredited that Newsweek could run a cover story proclaiming, “We’re all socialists now.” What happened? Why did that moment dissipate?
I saw that cover so many times [at Tea Party events]. For these people, that rang the alarm bell. I think the AIG moment [when the bailed-out insurance behemoth used taxpayer relief to dole out huge bonuses to its executives] was in some ways the high point of the crisis, when [the politics] could have gone either way. There was this amazing public outrage, and that for me was the turning point. Newsweek had another cover, “Thinking Man’s Guide to Populism,” and I remember this feeling around the country, that people were just furious. Somehow the right captured the sense of anger. They completely captured it. You could say they had no right to it, but they did. And one of the reasons they were able to do it was because the liberals were not interested in that anger.
I’m speaking here of the liberal culture in Washington, D.C. There was no Occupy Wall Street movement [at that time] and there was only people like me on the fringes talking about it. The liberals had their leader in Barack Obama … they had their various people in Congress. But these people are completely unfamiliar with populist anger. It’s an alien thing to them. They don’t trust it, and they have trouble speaking to it. I like Barack Obama, but at the end of the day he’s a very professorial kind of guy. The liberals totally missed the opportunity, and the right was able to grab it.
Obama and the Democrats had the opportunity to catch a wave. We never believed his Hopenchange™ horseshit, but many people did. If he had done the right things he might have even persuaded some of us. All he had to do was channel the popular anger at the targets that deserved it.
They didn’t even use the bailout as leverage to break-up the TBTF banks and force them to accept new financial regulations. They just gave it away, no strings attached.
Looking back on it, I feel like people like myself were part of the problem. We sort of assumed with the Democrats in power, the system would correct itself.
One of the problems with liberalism in this country is that it’s headquartered in Washington and its leaders are a very comfortable class of people. Washington is one of the richest cities in the country, maybe the richest. It’s not a place that feels the crisis, that feels the economic downturn. By and large, the real estate market stayed OK. The city continued to boom. The contracts continued to flow. What we’re talking about here is the failure of modern liberalism. At one time it was a movement of working-class people. The idea that liberals wouldn’t feel economic pain was ridiculous. That’s who liberals were. No more.
“Comfortable” is not the word I would use. I would use “corrupt.”
That’s why Obama and the Democrats failed. They are corrupt.
A bail-out with no strings. A stimulus that rewarded contributors but failed to stimulate. Financial regulations that don’t regulate. Healthcare reform that created a windfall for health insurance companies but didn’t reform health care. Crony capitalism.
The problem in this country isn’t the Tea Party. It isn’t the Occupiers either. They are both a reaction to the problem.
The Tea Party was created as an astroturf organization to channel right-wing anger at Obama and the Democrats. It turned on its creators and attacked the Republicans.
OWS was created as an astroturf organization to channel left-wing anger away from Obama and the Democrats. It succeeded.
Neither the Tea Party nor OWS has done much to change any minds. The red states are still red and the blue states are still blue. They are never gonna agree on most issues. But they both agree on a couple key things.
Both the Tea Party and the majority of OWS want responsive government. They want their elected representatives in Congress to keep their campaign promises. Sure, they voted for different candidates and different promises, but the principle is the same.
Both the Tea Party and the majority of OWS want to end crony capitalism. They might say it differently, but they both want the same thing. They are tired of seeing their tax dollars going to campaign contributors. Neither side likes Wall Street. They want their votes to count.
You would think some smart people would use those facts to make a change.
But now the Tea Party is busy trying to select a candidate to defeat Obama. When the Occupiers start up again in the spring they will be busy trying to defeat the Republicans. Meanwhile the crony capitalists will be laughing all the way to their banks.