Update 03/23: Make sure to check out Sarah’s post on Spitzer, populism, and The Experts.
On today’s episode of Fareed Zakaria GPS, an ‘expert panel’ was convened to discuss ‘populist’ outrage in the wake of AIG and other recent scandals related to the global economic crisis. Via email, I bet Sarah a dinner at IHOP (because we be keepin’ it real like that in this economy) that the ‘expert panel’ would be tilted towards the Washington media elite–y’know, Broder, Friedman, maybe some latte-sipping ‘even the’ liberal from TNR. Sarah very astutely declined to take me up on that bet.
Good thing, too–I knew it was going to be bad, but this so-called ‘expert panel’ went beyond even the previously charted borders of EPIC ESTABLISHMENT FAIL .
How about next time try featuring some actual, y’know, populists–labour reps, or writers like Barbara Ehrenreich or Bill Fletcher, Jr–people who aren’t stuck in the bubble of establishment Washington, who don’t purse their lips at such vulgar concepts as ‘populism’, ‘nationalization’ or even (gasp!) ‘socialism.’ Or, as Sarah suggested, someone like our homie Erik Loomis, a Gilded Age historian whose focus is labor history and has studied in depth populist movements in the US. In other words, REAL experts on the matter of ‘populist rage’, not smug apologists for the very system that has PROVOKED the white-hot ire of the general public.
At the end of the segment, Zakaria guilelessly requested that viewers write in if they felt the panel didn’t contain enough populist outrage “and we’ll see what we can do to correct that”. Dude, there was NO populist outrage–period. Jesus fucking wept — talk about a glib cocktail party sneer from the woefully-out-of-touch establishment.
Pitchforks. Pikes. Tumbrils.
Take action: Contact Fareed Zakaria GPS and (politely but firmly) let them know that you want to see REAL experts on populism represented in any purportedly ‘expert’ panel.
[T]he real issue isn’t bonuses. It’s your compensation, period. It’s the fact that, after doing your very best to wreck the world economy, you regard yourselves as entitled to levels of compensation that people who actually make things can only fantasize about. The bonus part is just the icing on the cake.
Oddly, though, the idea that bonuses have something to do with performance isn’t limited to us outsiders. The WSJ article also contains this gem:
“Under the forthcoming rules, bonuses could come to no more than one-third of the total annual compensation paid to employees covered by the restrictions. Some compensation experts view the bonus limits as a mistake that turns the notion of pay for performance on its head, despite Wall Street’s culpability for the recession and credit crisis.”
Oh noes! We can’t have the notion of pay for performance turned on its head! Not on Wall Street!
As someone who thinks that levels of compensation in the US are absurdly unequal, and that this is bad for the country, it’s tempting to say: oh, go ahead, you idiots. Keep your sense of entitlement to other people’s money. Make people come after you with pikes and tumbrils. See if I care.
The thing is, I don’t think that rage normally leads to good policy. (Though, as I’ve said before, I really believe that it would help a lot with moral hazard if people found the experience of having the government bail out their firms profoundly unpleasant.) And I’m sure that my inner policy wonk will shortly regain control. Still, at the moment, it’s awfully tempting. I think of people I’ve known who have worked hard all their lives for not very much money, only to be completely bankrupted by unforeseen medical catastrophes, and I imagine these people being asked to support investment bankers in the style to which they have become accustomed, and fury feels like exactly the right response.”
Here’s hoping Hil’s inner policy wonk doesn’t regain control any time soon — she definitely needs to include the phrase “pikes and tumbrils” in more posts.
Echoing Maddow above, Sarah J (h/t for the vid) shamelessly drops the ‘p’ word (no, not that one–pervs) in what is (hopefully) the kickoff post to a timely series examining populist renewal and class consciousness in a time of economic crisis and political revitalization in the US:
In one of my courses last year, we read [Tom] Wolfe the same week as we read Hunter S. Thompson. Thompson was the kind of populist that we should be looking at now, moving forward. The consummate outsider, constantly angry at the powerful, constantly on the side of the little guy.
When I get angry at NPR’s Science Friday for being completely clueless about the purpose of an auto industry bailout, it’s that spirit that I’m invoking.
It’s not condescendingly taking a whiskey shot or implying that your audience is racist. It’s much more than that. Obama managed to ride populist support into the White House without ever attempting to change who he was. Because he gets it. He knows what it’s like to be broke, to have to decide between paying your heat and buying food. And yeah, it’s been a long time and two Ivy League schools since he’s had to make those choices, but I don’t think he’s forgotten.
This is the first time in the history of the United States that the president has sought to provoke a financial panic to get legislation passed through Congress. While this has proven to be a successful political strategy – after the House of Representatives finally passed the bank bail-out plan today – it marks yet another low point in American politics.
It was even more irresponsible for President Bush to seize on the decline in the stock market five days later as evidence that his bailout was needed for the economy. President Bush must surely understand, as all economists know, that the daily swings in the stock market are driven by mass psychology and have almost nothing to do with the underlying strength in the economy.
The scare tactics of President Bush, Henry Paulson, the Treasury secretary, and Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, created sufficient panic, so that by the time of the first vote on the emergency package in Congress, much of the public believed that the defeat of the bail-out may actually have had serious consequences for the economy. Millions of people have changed their behaviour because of this fear, with many pulling money out of bank and money market accounts, and adjusting their financial plans in other ways.
This effort to promote panic is especially striking since the country’s dire economic situation is almost entirely the result of the Bush administration’s policy failures.
Stepping up the Republican ticket’s attacks on Senator Barack Obama, Gov. Sarah Palin on Saturday seized on a report about Mr. Obama’s relationship with a former 1960s radical to accuse him of “palling around with terrorists.”
“This is not a man who sees America as you see it, and how I see America,” Ms. Palin, the Republican vice-presidential nominee, said in Colorado, according to a pool report. “We see America as the greatest force for good in this world. If we can be that beacon of light and hope for others who seek freedom and democracy and can live in a country that would allow intolerance in the equal rights that again our military men and women fight for and die for all of us.
“Our opponent though, is someone who sees America, it seems, as being so imperfect that he’s palling around with terrorists who would target their own country.”
See? Obama really does = Osama (or Bobby Seale’s love child–take your pick). Who sez forwarded emails can’t be trusted?
The article to which she referred, in The New York Times on Saturday [link added -mb], traced Mr. Obama’s sporadic interactions with Bill Ayers, a founder of the Weathermen who later became an education professor in Chicago and worked on education projects there with Mr. Obama, the Democratic nominee for president.
“Well, I was reading my copy of today’s New York Times and I was interested to read about Barack’s friends from Chicago,” Ms. Palin said at the fund-raiser in Englewood, Colo. “Turns out one of Barack’s earliest supporters is a man who, according to The New York Times, and they are hardly ever wrong, was a domestic terrorist and part of a group that, quote, launched a campaign of bombings that would target the Pentagon and U.S. Capitol. Wow. These are the same guys who think patriotism is paying higher taxes.”
The blatant hypocrisy here, while extreme, craven and obvious, is also healthy. Hypocrisy of this sort is actually a vital part of how checks and balances are supposed to work. It is expected that political factions, when in charge of the government, will seek to obtain greater power for themselves, and the check against that is that the “opposition party” will battle and resist — not necessarily out of ideology or principle but due to raw power considerations and self-interest. That is what has been so tragically missing from our political process for the last eight years: while the GOP sought greater and greater government power, Democrats acquiesced almost completely when they weren’t complicitly enabling it. While the Executive was off the charts in terms of the power it seized, the Congress was off the charts in its passivity and eagerness to relinquish its Constitutionally assigned powers to the Bush White House. That’s what has caused the extreme imbalance, with a bloated Republican Party and virtually unlimited presidential power: the failure of Democrats and the Congress to serve as a check on any of that. As their newfound contempt for unlimited power makes conclusively clear, the executive-power-worshipping Republicans of the last eight years — if there is an Obama presidency — will quickly re-discover their limited government power “principles” and won’t be nearly as accommodating.
In terms of consequences, why should we endorse bi-partisanship? That is a fundamentally anti-democratic response. Here I am persuaded by argument by political theorists who, following Joseph Schumpeter (whose conception of democracy is, despite common caricatures, neither a ‘realist’ nor ‘minimalist’), insist that robust competition is crucial to a healthy democracy. For instance, Ian Shapiro* suggests that competition has two salutary effects: (i) it allows voters to throw out incumbents (known more appropriately as ‘the bastards’) and (ii) it pressures the opposition to solicit as wide a range of constituencies as they are able. Given these effects, Shapiro suggests quite pointedly:
If competition for power is the lifeblood of democracy, then the search for bi-partisan consensus … is really anticompetitive collusion in restraint of democracy. Why is it that people do not challenge legislation that has bi-partisan backing, or other forms of bi-partisan agreement on these grounds? …
… Among the crucial empirical observations about partisan polarization in the U.S. is that it reflects the economic bifurcation (in terms of wealth and income mal-distribution) among the population. Because the poor participate at relatively low levels, and because many recent immigrants remain unnaturalized (hence disenfranchised), the constituency for a real alternative to right-wing policies remains politically inchoate. The solution to political polarization is to attack economic inequality, to resist anti-immigration policies, and so forth. That might, in fact, require Democrats to stop their headlong rush to mimic Republicans and prompt them to seek to forge broader and deeper alliances between constituencies that do not now see one another as allies. But that would require the Dems to be political rather than play the bi-partisan game. What we need is more robust competition.
That sonic boom you heard was Johnson’s point swooping over David Broder’s shiny pate.